In A Town Named White Swan, Listening To A Cat Is Only Right After A Fire

February 14, 2011

She walked along with us, though on the other side of the road.  Empty and charred describes our side of the road; house with a tree and fence describes her side.  When we stopped, she stopped as well.  Looked at us.  And mewed.

She’s a medium sized cat with a white rear end that changes half way down her back to black shoulders and head with white whiskers; though you had to look beyond the soot and smoke.  This afternoon, she was mostly gray.  She sat down, with front legs straight as cats do, tilted her head, and watched us.  Though there was a roughness to her mew, there was something majestic to her posture.  Her pose spoke much to the feeling and the energy around us.

Hours before fire and police opened the town of White Swan.  The scene was much like those we have all watched at one time or another on television.  Where houses once stood, were now foundations, ash, and melted home belongings.  Recognizing the landscape was now difficult.  Landmarks were gone.  Where homes, garages, trees and shrubs, once stood, you now saw open land.  If it were not for people in the midst of it all you would never know people lived here, yesterday.

People wandered up and down roads, from one block to the next.  Partly to see what had happened—what was left and what was not—partly to see their friends.  Not uncommon was for a neighbor’s eyes to meet those of another neighbor and cry as they ran to one another and hugged.  Not uncommon was to see a person walk past, soot and ash covering them from work, with streaks on their cheeks.  Not uncommon were people working, cleaning up what they could, stopping their work for conversation, being fully themselves, yet stoic at this moment.

Folks kept arriving through the afternoon.  Many, many more people walked the roads than who lived in this neighborhood.  For the hurt within White Swan spread beyond any imaginary borders that dignitaries, county planners, or politicians draw.  Family is larger than a geographic boundary.

Health and wellbeing are hard to recognize in the midst of disaster.  Neither looks the same as they might have yesterday.  Yet in the midst of charred life, where folk hug, cry, and work together, the fullness of wellbeing is palpable.  And health?  Well, maybe health comes from crossing the street and petting the cat.

© David B. Bell 2011


  1. The people of white swan are a strong people. They believe in each other and will stand strong. They will help each other in any way they can. They are what a real family stands for. I am proud to know them.


    1. You’re right, when a community moves from being a “people” to being a family, then the value of all is seen and experienced.


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