Saturday, July 4th, 2015
Of all days for this to happen. More than the usual number of planes were in the air. They were dropping water bombs and chemicals. A forest fire had started on the north end entrance to Venables Valley, the location where I was staying and also the place where the annual countryside Chariot Festival was to take place at noon today. This fire dynamic, sourced from Mother Nature (or Father Jagannatha), turned everything upside down.
It was 11:00 AM when my hosts Harold, his good wife and a friend, Vyasapad, were told by police that any non-residents in the valley must leave immediately. This red alarm got us thinking, “Two out of the four of us are in that category. We’ve got to evacuate.” Furthermore, Harold raised a concern in his mind that this wasn’t the first time people have had to evacuate. In 2004, residents, which were about 100, had to honor a one week mandatory absence from the valley by authorities.
We were also informed that the bus from Vancouver destined for the festival was not allowed to enter the valley due to the spreading flames, while winds were unfavourably headed in the direction of everyone’s homes. This was getting exciting. Harold started to secure his essentials, packing his Krishna deities. I recommended, “Why not get your legal documents and money together?” And Vyasapad added, “How about some basic food to take with you?”
Harold was totally on board. We gathered what we could to get in his car, what the car could accommodate. We arrived at the festival site, hoping that the fire was under control. There were mixed reactions about the police order from the residents but it wasn’t safe to stay. The police then rolled in at the site. Officer Phillips persisted, “Guests must leave.”
I asked him to announce that at our pavilion, so he did. Managers of the valley from the Saranagati Village arranged then to send all the prasadam, food, to Legacy Park in the nearby town, Ashcroft. It was a very wise decision. That did the trick. Everyone, including residents, converged at the park where the bus passengers were waiting. The party went on in full force while fire fighters did what they could to contain the flames. Harold set up his Krishna deities on the grass. I addressed the crowd, “What does Jagannatha (our Father of the Universe) want? Does he want a festival in a town and not in a secluded Valley? Let’s explore the idea for the future.”
May the Source be with you!