Harry Hill - age 80 - took a pull from his cigar and exhaled contentedly. From his living room, he could look out onto his quiet neighborhood in Anaconda, Montana. Nobody had walked by his front window in over an hour, and that was all right with him. Reflexively, his hand dropped to tip some ash into an ashtray by his easy chair, but this time the cigar slipped out of his fingers and fell onto a stack of newspapers. The papers must have been sitting too long in the July heat, for they quickly caught fire. Harry tried to reach for the cigar, thought better of it, and stamped at the flames with his slippers. A blackened shred of paper flew up, drifted across the room, and came to rest close to the lower edge of the curtains. Too close.
The fire snatched at the fabric hungrily, set it alight, and quickly leapt up the wall until the flames were licking the living room ceiling. Harry ripped the oxygen tubes from his nose, hurried to the kitchen and filled a pot with water. He threw it at the curtains and went back for more, but by then the carpet was ablaze, and Harry knew he couldn’t put it out on his own. He left the kitchen faucet running, escaped out the back of the house, and scuttled across the street as fast as his frail legs could carry him. Just as his arm was raised to knock on his neighbor’s door, the oxygen tank in the living room exploded. The windows shattered outward, and shards of glass rained down upon the empty sidewalks of Maple Street.
Two years later, the story continues. I was cautiously driving my wounded vehicle down from Harts Pass in the North Cascades, hoping I could get the motor mounts repaired quickly so I could head to Anaconda and look for a house to purchase. I reached the town of Twisp on a Sunday afternoon, and all the auto repair shops were predictably closed. With a lopsided engine and an inability to shift into reverse gear, I didn’t know where I could set up camp for the night without getting stuck. Thankfully, the police escorted me to an empty riverside lot on the outskirts of town and promised not to evict me like they normally do to campers and revelers.