Sonoma County Fairgrounds

Rescue and Now Restoration Beginnings

Our Sonoma County fires have reached nearly total containment now I think (hope!) and most of the neighborhoods that burned have been opened up for the owners to begin the process of sifting through the rubble for salvageable belongings. The air is clear and we have begun to venture out into Santa Rosa to see the damage and try to get our minds and hearts around the loss of property and so much more. Last week we walked the Sonoma County Fairgrounds where the evacuation center and fire rescue headquarters have completely taken over the grounds.

firerescueheadquarters2We walked through Grace Pavilion where evacuees were resting on cots and talking to counselors and FEMA and insurance reps and other volunteer helpers.  We sketched the soldiers and the tables with free towels and flip flops and mobile TV center and mobile laundry and mobile cafe.  We looked through the fence to see the fire trucks and a vast tent city erected for first responders,  an astonishing command center for fire rescue in Sonoma County.

And today we ventured out to familiar settings in Santa Rosa, now less familiar except as seen in news articles for the past two weeks as charred remains.

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At Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, Restoration Services vans and crews were everywhere restoring landscape around the performing arts center.  The building next door on the east side is now a burned out shell which had housed the Anova Center for Education. A hazmat team was cleaning and removing loose debris, and we spoke to two of the school staff in the parking lot. Anova Center for Education is a K-12 school and services for children with autism and learning differences. School is temporarily suspended while they await portable classrooms which will be erected in the parking lot until their building can be rebuilt.

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There’s a cruel irony to the pure white fire hydrant right outside the burnt out shell of a building. If it had feelings it would surely be unhappy that it couldn’t fulfill its one mission in life. Or perhaps I’m just projecting my survivor’s guilt onto it.

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National Heirloom Expo

This “urban sketcher” headed to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds this week for an agricultural extravaganza, the National Heirloom Expo, otherwise known as the World’s Pure Food Fair!

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I appreciate beautiful organic produce as much at the next person, but I have to admit that the draw for me was the color! The House of Flowers was filled with such diversity of texture, color and just plain outrageous and sometimes alien forms of fruits and vegetables that it took a long time until we could sit down to sketch. Even then my eyes were bigger than my sketchbook and I overdid it! I decided just to go for it with a brush loaded with color and to keep painting for dear life! Fun!

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This is bitter melon. Its health benefits are legendary if you can survive the bitterness. But get a load of those colors and textures! If I could imagine it as a sugary treat I might actually be able to eat it!

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The dahlias next to me here were a tiny portion of the total display, some of them measuring a foot or more across and with layers of multi colored petticoats. A young mother approached me and asked to take a picture of me for her 5 year old daughter who likes to paint. Reminded me that that’s one of the reasons I like to expose myself to public sketching like this. It was a very friendly crowd, and I made some new friends and at times abandoned the sketching to talk or show off my paints or hand out cards.

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Carole and I realized at some point that people considered us part of the display and soon we had some folks camping out with us, watching the brush dip into paint. A bit distracting, but well worth the interruption!