Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Chicken Soup From Yarnell #5; Moving On.

My husband and I spent some quiet time with friends in Yarnell over Memorial Day Weekend.  Suddenly one evening I noticed that we were not only talking about The Fire (caps mine).  After just about eleven months, our community is moving on.  We’re talking about normal stuff like our families and vacation plans.  When we do talk about the fire, it is mostly with gratitude to the many people who have been helping us to rebuild and excitement about one or another friend’s new home.  I have no doubt that the blazing ogre that changed all of our lives will be a topic as long as I live, but It’s finally not the only topic.

I’d like to share some examples of the overwhelming generosity we are experiencing as we rebuild.

APS Crews in Yarnell take a moment to pay respects to the fallen, July 7, 2013
Before we could return, many people were working tirelessly.  APS, for example, labored overtime to repair and replace power poles.  Recently they stepped back in to assist with dead tree removal and replanting.  They donated the trees, too.  Kate McCollough (Muleshoe Animal Clinic) and Kim Lytle (Petey’s Playground) scoured the area for animals which, for whatever reason, could not be evacuated and met their needs until their “parents” could make it back.

Eight days after the destruction, the evacuation order was lifted.  Of course our emotions were mixed when we rolled into town, but we were so impressed with those who were there to help; Yavapai County, the Red Cross, various church groups, the humane society, and of course the Yarnell Hill Recovery Group (YHRG) was already organizing a plan of assistance for material and emotional needs.

Several agencies provided emergency cash assistance.

Many responded to requests for travel trailers to meet temporary housing needs.

Volunteers move furniture into a new, donated home.
So much food, clothing, and furniture was donated that we couldn’t store it in our little town, and the United Way of Yavapai County maintained it for those who lost their homes in a warehouse in Prescott for many months.  Some of us called it Yarnellmart.

In-kind donations came in to thank the volunteers including those from shoe companies and resorts.
Our little water cooperative suffered massive losses and help streamed in..  We build Arizona donated $250,000 in materials and the Rotary Club of Prescott Sunrise and The Rotary Foundation provided $90,000 to replace its computer controller.

Framing up a new, donated home. Debi Keehner Photo
Then it was time to build houses for the uninsured.  I’m close to this project because my husband coordinated the building of the six site-built (as distinct from manufactured) homes which were donated.  We had all manner of help with these, beginning with Yavapai County Development Services, who expedited permits and inspections for us.  Homeowners pitched in, services were donated and deeply discounted, and an army of volunteers worked really hard.  When the houses were done, donated appliances, furniture, art and all manner of household things were moved in. 

Christmas; Steve and Debi Keehner are almost ready to move in.
Generous people from all over the world made cash donations to help us rebuild.  According to the latest financial statement of the YHRG, just over $1.5 million has been received, about $600,000 of which has been spent on rebuilding homes for uninsured residents.  A total of about $1 million has been spent.  The summary may be viewed here.

Pete Incardona (R) and crew work to replace the burned cross, Shrine of St. Joseph
In the interim we’ve had large groups of volunteers working at the Shrine of St Joseph & Retreat Center (which sustained massive damage), Community Garden, Crew quarters at the Fire Station, and at residences throughout town.  Plans are well underway to create a memorial to the fallen Granite Mountain Hotshots, the evacuated citizens, and the lost homes along the highway in Yarnell, with assistance from the Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture School and Swift Charities, among others.

Though I struggle with our many losses, I’m also in awe of the new and strengthened relationships which have bloomed in the process. 

I’m overwhelmed with gratitude, and moving on.

These words are used by permission of the author, Kae Cameron;

Beam by Beam
Ferocious feasting fire
Devouring here and leaving there
Vibrant spirits seared by flame
Memories melted into gnarled glass
Lives charred black, crumbling as the granite stone
Broken as the pile of pottery shards
Can mere mortals salve such wounds?
Yes, beam by beam
Nail by nail
 Sounds of hammers echo
Echo healing to wounded hearts
Hope inches into scarred faces
At first a spark, then its own flame
Bodies unfold to stand erect
No longer beaten, no longer crushed.
Thoughts dare to be thought of lives to come
Could it be?
Yes, beam by beam.

Monday, May 19, 2014


Deer Creek Narrows

The last time I was at the Deer Creek Patio was probably 20 years ago.  Still, if you asked me (even before my trip there this month) I'd say that it was in my top ten favorite places in the world and certainly my favorite place in the Grand Canyon.  

It was fabulous to be there again.  Sadly, the giant cottonwood tree I'd remembered has washed out in a flash flood but otherwise the place was as I remembered.  Waterfalls flow to shallow rivulets along flat expanses of tapeats sandstone which reconvene to form more waterfalls in a deep sinuous gorge. 

The Southern Paiutes say this is the resting place of their ancestors and the Hopi, Zuni, and Hualapai also claim it as sacred ground.  If you look carefully along the canyon walls you'll see ancient hand-shaped pictographs.  Not too long ago, travelers rappelled into the narrows below the patio, but the tribes have successfully lobbied to prohibit that for religious reasons.

Detail, Deer Creek
The morning hike to Deer Creek was to me the centerpiece of a 10-day trip which felt like a pilgrimage.  We were 13 photographers and many of us had traveled together before.  There were hardships and challenges (think 50 MPH blowing dust) and tremendous rewards. The storm light and elegant canyons filled us all with (dare I say it?) spiritual awe.  We worked hard and reaped the rewards.
Sunrise, Little Colorado River
Of course, there was more; an evening rainstorm with fast-changing light, sunrise on Chuar Butte with the bright turquoise Little Colorado River in the foreground, and the breathtaking bounced light over my head in the tortured layers of Blacktail Canyon.

Jack Dykinga, our leader, often says that this place will change you.  He was right.

We were pilgrims.

Maybe you are, too.

More images from the pilgrimage are on the website.


In one of those delightful synchronous moments that surface periodically, Larry Lindahl posted this quote during a talk at Sedona Photofest in June;

"The key to a pilgrimage is to embark on the trip with a heightened intention.  We are not just tourists; we are going to honor someone or something.

By honoring what is sacred to us, we make it more real in our lives.  Inevitably we return from the pilgrimage, and this is an essential part of the meaning as well.

We're supposed to return to our normal lives, except that we return transformed, carrying the experience with us forever, having touched the reality of what we love."

-Ming Dao Deng