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HELSTON: Life lessons taught by fire and a grab-and-go-box

Charlotte Helston is the Vernon reporter for InfoNews.
July 24, 2015 - 7:45 AM

As hundreds of wildfires rage across the province, I have, for the first time ever, made ‘the box.’

The everything-that’s-important box, the grab-it-and-go box. The box that if everything else burns to the ground, will still exist.

My family moved to the Okanagan in 2003, and my first impressions of the valley were smoky skies, inch-deep ash on the cars, and the pungent scent of scorched earth. It was the summer fierce wildfires burned in Kelowna and Falkland, forcing many from their homes, and leaving others with no place to go back to. When we arrived, our whole lives were in boxes. We didn’t unpack for a few days, prepared, if required, to haul our possessions to safety.

Things are different this time. I don’t have any U-haul trailers on hand, and have long been unpacked. The Okanagan is no longer a strange new place on fire; it’s home.

Making my box was harder than I thought. Previously, when entertaining the thought of creating one, I wondered how I could possibly make everything fit. There were clothes, jewelry, electronics and a host of other objects I had a hard time imagining my life without. And yet, when I finally put myself to the task this week, I had a hard time even filling up a shoe box.

I added certain irreplaceable things — family heirlooms and photo albums (and external hard drives) — but realized pretty much everything else could be bought or borrowed in an emergency. It wasn’t like that game we played as kids where you pick three things to bring with you to a deserted island. That’s survival. This is sentimental.

In our materialistic, consumer-driven world that revolves around the latest iPhone, or this season’s must-have sweater, it’s easy to lose sight of what we can, and can’t, live without. Sometimes, it takes extreme situations landing on your doorstep to realign what really matters.

When I envision myself shooting out the driveway while a hungry wildfire advances — an image I suspect many in the Okanagan have conjured once or twice — I picture the car filled with all the people, and animals, I care about, and my shoebox on my lap. Like that thing you can’t seem to remember, whatever doesn’t materialize in that imaginary moment can’t be that important.

I’m grateful my box is only a precaution and not a necessity, and can’t imagine what it’s like for the nightmare of being forced from home to become real. But I’m taking this fire season as a reminder of what’s important. A reminder to let go of the little things and understand that life is not measured by what you can fit inside a U-haul trailer, but by what you choose to carry in a little box.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724. 

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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