Weekly Property Update

Sunflower

The gift of a star.

As I drove up to our property today I was greeted by a brightly painted wood star, sticking out of the ground on a green painted stick.  It warmed my heart to see these in front of every property as I drove through the neighborhood.  On the back of each star is the first name and initial to the last name of the student who painted the star.  Apparently this was part of some school effort to reach out to fire victims in Bastrop.  I’ll have to get the full story and update later but its very cool.  Ours was made by “John W.”  Whoever you are you made me smile today when I saw your precious creation.  As the rest of the Ristow family comes out to see it, I know they will too.

God Bless you, John W!

Today was another day of clearing bricks from around the perimeter of the foundation.  But the end is quickly drawing near.  I was able to clear nearly half of the south side of the foundation, the last of the sides to be clear end, in about an hour today.  I was grateful for the cloud cover hanging with me all afternoon.  It sure beats a blazing sun overhead while hauling brick.  The remaining bricks will probably take another  1.5 to 2 hours to clear, which I plan to finish up later this week.   It feels good to be reaching the end of this part of the clean-up.  After I’ve finished with the last of the bricks I’ll call the county again to pick up this last pile.  In a way it is a bit sad to reach this point, too.  The last of the brick means the last of the debris that was our home will be gone.

Getting near the end of brick clearing.

Of course there’s still the foundation.  Recently there’s been some exciting news involving movement toward a cleanup effort for that concrete slab that I hope to share here within the next week or so.  More on that soon.

Before leaving for the day I snapped a few more stills around the property for my weekly update.  I’ve posted several of them here.  Some of these are a study in contrasts, such as a really bright sunflower, and some really dark trees stubs.  Although you may not be able to see it real well from the picture, some of the tree stubs are shedding their burned bark.  Thats not because they’re dead.  Its because the Pine Beetles are back and they’re busy boring away at the interior pine tree wood.  Even a fire couldn’t stop the Pine Beetles for long.

Weekly Property Update

Another side of the foundation cleared of brick.

After a busy slate of recent work projects and all the activities of Easter, I was finally able to make it back out to the property today to clear a bit more brick.  After a few hours of work, the foundation is clear on three sides.  Now only the south side remains to be cleared.  Its been strangely comforting to carve out these small niches of time here and there to slowly clear away the bulk of the brick of what was once our home.

Weeds are overtaking much of the lot and while it does look rather ragged at the moment, I’m glad to see the vegetation still taking hold in the soil.  Its also a welcome sight to see some substantial color across the property, besides the black and grey that has dominated for so long.  Virtually all the trees on our street remain black sticks, with very few exceptions.  Many, many trees will be coming down in the months (and years) ahead.

It almost seemed odd to hear the sound of weed-eaters filling the air as neighbors worked to trim back the tide of weeds that have been fostered by the very welcome rains of late.  Odd in that I felt a momentary twinge of regret at the thought of everyone carving away greenery we had waited for so long to return.

The sounds of chainsaws still fill the air as well.  Another neighbor, two doors down, was cutting down a huge pine tree today.  I was there as the chainsaw finished its cut and the tree cracked, then crashed to the earth, the ground trembling as the hefty pine trunk landed.

Its six months since the fire and many people have barely made a dent in felling their trees.  I still have over  3/4 of my trees to knock down.  Most of us have waited for spring to see what may or may not come back.  In our neighborhood the reality is starkly clear that these trees are dead.  The fire simply burned too long and too hot out here.  The trees were literally cooked.

My good neighbor Daniel was home while I was working and once again came out and offered me a cool drink and a break to chat.  His conversation is always soothing to me.  He and his wife are rebuilding and are getting bids on plans for a slightly larger home with lots of windows and a wraparound porch.  He’s hoping they’ll be able to move in well before Christmas.  Right now they’re living in a small camper trailer on their property.  I’m glad they’re there.  Their presence gives some life to the neighborhood, some consistency and a couple of smiles.

After Daniel headed off, I finished up my brick hauling for the day.  I estimate another 2-3 trips out to the property to finish clearing the remaining brick.  My $60 wheelbarrow might just make it through the job.  Then it will be time to handle the breaking up and removal of the foundation, and then, finally, the rest of the trees.

Day by day, step by step…

Weekly Property Update

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Brief visit to the property on Monday. Lots of greenery popping up on the ground, most of it weeds. But even the weeds are a welcome sight to help prevent excessive erosion. Daniel, my neighbor, walked up with a bottle of water for me, as he often does, and we had another good chat. I need to get back out to finish the cleanup of bricks but work has been busy lately and it looks like that will have to wait until next week.

“Blessed” by Texas Live

Texas Live, Vol. 6, Issue 1

The latest issue of Texas Live, featuring the second part of an article on our family’s story after the Bastrop fire, is now available on newsstands and magazine racks.

In the November/December 2011 issue of Texas Live, my article “Six Minutes” was published as part 1.  Now, in this current issue, labeled as ‘Volume 6 Issue 1’, the concluding article “Blessed” wraps up the two-part series.  While “Six Minutes” told the story of our evacuation on the day of the fire, “Blessed” focuses on our return home two days later and the very special discovery that touched our lives.

Show your support for our family’s story and for Texas Live magazine by picking up your copy today.  Texas Live is a society magazine that is very professionally produced.  My family and I are again proud to be included in another issue of this quality publication.

Special thanks goes out to Raye Green for providing me this opportunity with Texas Live and her ongoing support and proofing of my articles.  She did a wonderful job.   Also special thanks to Natalie Lacy Lange, senior editor of Texas Live, for publishing my articles, overseeing very nice layouts for each issue and her ongoing support as well.

Texas Live is available at Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, Borders, H.E.B., Hastings, Super Walmart, Austin’s Bergstrom Airport (ABIA) and Houston Hobby Airport.

Texas Live Website

http://texaslivenetwork.com/

Texas Live Blog

http://texasliveblog.com/

Sharing Our Story with KUT Radio

Studio 1C

Thursday we loaded up the whole family and headed over to the KUT radio studios in the Communications building on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.  We went there to share our fire story for an audio documentary that KUT is producing.

Ann Leifeste and Andy Uhler, reporters with KUT met us and guided us to the recording studio.  Ann interviewed us in Studio 1C.  As we all piled into the small room it was clear who was most at home in front of the microphone:  Matthew sat right down in a chair before a mic and started mouthing words like he was telling his whole story.

As the recording session got underway the whole family contributed to telling our story at various points, including Ben and Matthew.  Ann did a nice job of prompting our story with various questions of all of us.  Her reassuring smile made us feel comfortable throughout the session.

Afterward, she took us by the famed Studio 1A, where various musicians have performed for recordings throughout the years.  That was a nice treat and a glimpse into one of Austin’s famed, but often unknown, spaces.  It was nice for the boys to get to experience a little bit of a radio studio.

The entire family enjoyed the experience.  We would highly encourage other families and individuals affected by the Bastrop fire to participate in this opportunity as well.  The more participation they have the more well-rounded of a documentary they can produce and the greater the diversity of stories about that day that can be heard.   We’re looking forward to hearing the final documentary on KUT.

The documentary is slated to air sometime around September 4, 2012 for the one year anniversary of the Bastrop Complex Fire.

Matthew telling his version of the story.

Weekly Property Update

Eerie Tree

Something about this old oak just keeps providing me with inspiration for more photo ops.  While working out there on Saturday the eerie look of the sun lined up behind it gave me goosebumps and I had to snap this rather spooky image.  Not long after this the sun came out and a blue sky appeared.

The seemingly never-ending brick clean-up effort.

Our friends, Jason Hard and his son, Luke, came out to help Tim with shoveling more bricks on Saturday, too.  A few hours later and the perimeter of the slab got a whole lot clearer.  Now, the front of the slab and the rear of the slab, along with about a 1/3 of one side are cleared of brick.  More clearing to take place this week.  Hopefully by the end of this next week, the majority of the bricks will be piled up for pick-up, leaving only the slab and trees left.

The rear of the slab looking a little cleaner.

The brick pile continues to expand...

Weekly Family Update

This is a great photo that Tracy took yesterday as we dropped the boys off at their weekly SAINTS class in Bastrop.  The boys can’t wait to go every week.  SAINTS is part of the Christian Homeschool Athletics Association where homeschool children get a Christian-based P.E. course.  It helps keep the boys connected to some of their Bastrop friends and us connected with the Bastrop community.

Weekly Property Update

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Today I cleared more bricks from around the slab. Now the patio and former garden can see the light of day again.

Another view of the slab as it (slowly) gets cleared of brick.

Another growing brick pile.

Finally, let’s end this weeks update on a beautiful note.  This was actually from last week but I caught this eerily beautiful radiance of sun streaming through the clouds over Bastrop.  There’s something kind of angelic about the image.

Radiant sky over Bastrop.

Before and After

Before...

Yesterday’s Weekly Update got me to thinking about how our old oak tree used to look before the fire.  I thought it might be interesting to start a semi regular before and after post that would help give you all a perspective on how things used to look.

The oak tree used to be such a central point of activity in our backyard, especially once the tire swing went up.  The boys could never get enough of playing on that swing.

...and After.

Weekly Property Update

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Dark oak tree.  No major changes this week at the property.  While the rain has had an erosive force on the land, it has also rejuvenated the area in many ways too.  Most of the ash has been washed away, sprouts of green grass and other small plants continue to crop up here and there.  I’ve continued to watch the oak tree for any signs of life.  It still appears dark and lifeless.  But spring is still weeks away and there may yet be hope.

KUT Radio to Feature Fire Stories

In an effort to document memories of the most destructive fire in Texas history, KUT radio in Austin is recording oral histories of people who were involved with or impacted by the fires of Labor Day weekend 2011.  The end result will be an hour-long radio documentary that will commemorate the event and is expected to air on KUT radio on the anniversary of the event later this year.  Interested individuals can contact the radio station for more information on how to be involved (contact info included in the article at the link below).

http://kut.org/central-texas-fires/

We will be sharing our story with the KUT reporters in the coming weeks for the documentary.  I encourage other families and individuals to contact the station and have their stories heard as well.