For the first time in 26 years, I’m all out of basset hounds.
No hard-body tri-color roommates. No wide-and-low dog sons swaying down halls, holding down old floors in my historic home. No cartoon-like silly-sad expression or sprawled-out-on-your-back-with-wild-abandon-yard sales with basset body parts everywhere.
Nowadays, my 14-pound doxie tiptoes on hardwood floors in choirboy super- high soprano – with whisper-light toenail sounds in the darkness.
Not that long, loud, deep, echoing, bass trombone toenail tap dance - shouting “I Am Here!” throughout the house. From basset brothers, solid and reliable.
No midnight baritone lapping of water from the bowl by my eldest, my Elvis. I could always tell who was sipping water, in the darkness of the night.
Just the dinky doxie remains from my pack of three, as I sip coffee at daybreak on June 3rd.
A year ago last May, I lost Elvis, a basset I rescued in 2004. His loss took me a year to recover from.
He was almost 14 - he had been wearing out – I both refused to accept his decline and started grieving about it, years ago.
Watching someone you love fall apart is never easy. Those little moments where they brighten up, gives you too much hope– you think they’re actually improving.
Meanwhile, it’s getting incrementally worse while you’re not watching. Or maybe you are, but then there’s denial.
No one wants to say goodbye. That was May 17, 2016. Who knew what was coming next.
Mosier oil train derailment - a year ago today
A couple weeks later - after Elvis - in June, the oil train exploded in our front yard. Four were on fire, 16 derailed, and in an instant, Mosier, Oregon, population 430, a tiny whistle stop town in the Columbia Gorge, was on the global news map.
It was a terrifying three days – we were incredibly lucky that Gorge winds didn’t blow, carrying the wildfire instantly through our town, wiping out all that we have.
That fear lived with me for three days – and hasn't left since then.
The trains burned so hot, firefighters couldn’t put out the fire for the first 24 hours – they just watched and waited.
They were able to stop the wildfire blackening trees at Rocky Creek, our windsurfing beach on the Columbia River, near the Mosier Twin Tunnels Trail on the historic Columbia River Highway. Those Mosier/ Gorge icons, now burning, were the reasons we moved here. And Gorge winds. And incredibly cool small town people.
But water doesn’t work on oil train fires. Only firefighting foam, that magical invention designed to extinguish a HAZMAT blaze, will. The derailment inferno burned so hot, it immediately evaporated the magic foam.
So, firefighters stood by and hoped the blaze would burn itself out – and poured hundreds of thousands of gallons of water on derailed cars - not to fight the fire – but to cool it all down enough for the foam to work.
That “we can’t really fight the fire” firefighting strategy took more than a day. A day of waiting to see if the fire would burn itself out – or they could eventually use foam – or - if wind came back and things got worse.
Summers here in the Gorge are famous for nuking winds. Another reason why windsurfers like me love this place. We LOVE wind! But not when there’s an inferno you can’t put out.
Ma Nature took pity on us.
She gave us no-wind days for the derailment. That is something I will forever be grateful for. We, as a community, are.
We will forever be grateful for the hundreds of first responders that dropped everything in their own communities and came to help our tiny town, with its tiny fire department, tackle the kind of incident that would take a fleet of fire departments to tackle.
We Mosierites had no water or sewer service for three days – that seemed an eternity. We depleted our community water supply. We lived in solidarity with it – we were tapped out.
We willed the water to help us, help firefighters pouring cool water over hot oil train cars so they could put out the fire before wind came back.
I work in disaster preparedness.
But I can say from firsthand experience - nothing can prepare you for the gut-wrenching stress of knowing you could lose everything - and there’s nothing you can do about it.
The uncertainty of those three days. The gridlock of roads and lives.
The ones we were before the derailment – happy-go-lucky, nature-loving windsurfers.
And the ones we’ve been, ever since…
At the time, another struggle. Another gut-punch. Union Pacific’s first concern was reinstating railroad traffic through our town. They turned trains back on, even before toilets or sinks for Mosier citizens.
I used to love the sound and vibration of trains below my house – it used to be comforting. Now, it’s a reminder I try to tune out.
Today, on anniversary day, June 3, 2017, it’s nuking windy. Thank you Ma Nature- for saving us last June 3, and for reminding us today.
Snowmeggadon, ice storms and frozen hearts
Six months after the trains, in December, snow started – which is normal in our mountain community.
But snow kept coming and coming…. for more than two months. A foot or two at a time, came, and stayed, stacking up, cutting us off from the world. Struggling to snow plow your way out.
The toughest winter in 20 years. Sub-freezing temps burst pipes and blocked our driveway for months. Can’t get out, can’t get it, can’t get around. Darkness.
And in the middle of it, a winter ice storm - an emergency declaration in Oregon. I drove to work at the Hood River EOC (Emergency Operations Center) to see if we could help. I stayed there three days with my two dogs, Dude and Doodle, since roads were closed in between.
On the last day of that 4-day work emergency, my dog son Dude went to find his basset brother in heaven. I closed the EOC doors at 1pm on Friday, and three hours later, at 4pm, Dude died.
That was January 20. Here it is, four and a half months later on June 3rd.
We’re standing on the edge of a glorious Gorge summer day. It’s the one-year anniversary of the Mosier oil train derailment.
I have to work – I can’t attend today's Mosier remembrance ceremony. Maybe that’s better.
For me, it’s all been a very private year of grieving. Not about the politics of railroads but about love and loss and trains that make sounds in the night while the bassets remain silent.
To cope, I joined the Board of Mosier Fire District. And surf on with my doxie Doodle.
We all learned a lot from the derailment. Like what matters most.
Love, loss and basset hounds.
What basset hound funerals and oil train derailments have in common - is grief.
The cumulative impacts of a bad year are deafening. Ever had a year like that? I could barely hear the sound of doxie toes tap dancing on hardwoods.
The doxie is here, expanding to fill the void – acting like a pack of three, in one dinky 14-pound dog bod.
For you and me - anyone struggling with loss - let’s cling to something really important:
The hope and the promise of this very moment.
The end of a tragic year.
Tomorrow is a new day. A new year.
Let’s us move forward with hope. This is our fresh start.
We can do this. Together.
Let’s be joyous! It’s over! We are survivors! We are free!