Jason Walsh: Troubled times brought out the best in Sonoma


“Where two raging fires meet together – they do consume the thing that feeds their fury.” – William Shakespeare

When fires spread across Sonoma Valley in the still of the Oct. 8 night, Sonomans had gone to bed that evening with other things on their mind – the latest “Game of Thrones” twist; the weekend’s fantasy football outcomes – concerns far more temperate than the 2,900-degree flames that would be engulfing parts of the Valley by break of dawn.

It seems so long ago, but it was only 11 days before that locals were debating the meaning of American-flag shirts at the high school, whether the city should ban new wine-tasting rooms downtown, and if the school district’s state assessments are up to snuff.

Sonomans were combative about affordable housing, pugnacious over vacation rentals and, at times, catty about tourists.

But not this week, not today. As the signage around town reads: “The love in the air is thicker than smoke.”

City Manager Cathy Capriola put it nicely in her remarks this week to the Sonoma City Council:

“The last week has been traumatic for all of us, it has been stressful for all of us and it has been heartbreaking for all of us,” she said. “It has also been heartwarming in many ways – to see the love and support our community has shown to each other.”

And there’s a lot of love and support to go around.

The firefighters, emergency personnel and other first responders – many unpaid volunteers – hopefully have seen such support. If not, the Sonoma Plaza and all its deep-felt signs of thanks are a great place to start. Rarely has a public comment – from congressional leaders down to moms posting on Facebook – begun without a well-deserved thank you to emergency teams. (See page B10 for Cal Fire’s full list.)

And then there’s the Sonoma folk themselves. Many of whom went from a Monday morning of WTF?! (and more G-rated thoughts of hope sent out over social media) straight into volunteer action – from the massive food drives of several restaurants and chefs (the Red Grape offered itself as ground zero for distribution) and spirited volunteers manning the high school evacuations center to those who opened up their homes to those fleeing theirs.

The community response was as massive as it was meaningful.

That crisis brings out the best in people is not unique to Sonoma. From Lake County of 2015 to this year’s headline-making catastrophes in Puerto Rico, Houston, Florida and Las Vegas, there’s been plenty of glasses of milk-of-human-kindness poured in recent times.

And Sonoma has surely risen to the occasion with the best of them.

Once the air clears a little more, Sonoma residents should take a deep breath of well-earned pride about the week in which the new slogan “Sonoma strong” lived up to its name.

But then exhale, cough and get ready to jump back to work. The roads to recovery, rebuilding and re-imagining the Valley of the future will all be long, winding and exact a pricey toll.

But rest assured: those roads will one day lead back to the pre-fire wine country chatter about test scores, tasting rooms and tourists – and all the other day-to-day consternations that didn’t seem so important these past few days.

And thank goodness for that.

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