July 22, 2013 Updated: July 22, 2013 at 3:39 pm
We called it the Mailbox Road.
Ten years ago, Brentwood Drive was lined with whimsical mailboxes. One family's mailbox was a train. Another was a house. One sported a ceramic squirrel and owl.
Every day on my way home from elementary school, we drove by Brentwood Drive and I would shout at my mother, "Turn here, turn here!"
Since then, many of those families moved and the creative mailboxes became little metal domes, but every now and then I still liked to drive down the Mailbox Road and remember how it used to be.
Driving down Brentwood now means remembering when the trees were anything but crisp, black stalks with eerie limbs reaching into the sky.
I've lived in Black Forest as long as I can remember. I had my first birthday party in our house just north of Swan Road and Herring Road. We were lucky. Our house is still standing, but the fire came much too close for comfort.
Everything was second nature in those woods, but now, in places, it's practically unrecognizable. For the first few days after we were allowed back in, I had to look at street signs just to get home. Now, a month later, I know the way by landmarks.
Turn right by the burned car. Turn left by the charred telephone pole on the ground.
From a distance, the trees look like some trick of the light. They stand in layers - unharmed and green, damaged and brown, destroyed and black. It brings an unfortunate new meaning to the name "Black Forest."
And it really is black. Sure, you can see the pictures of the ground and the trees and the debris and think, that's the media, that's the worst, that's what they want us to see. But the thing is, that's really what it looks like. The trees are just black. The ground is covered in ash, and it's black.
Where friends' houses once stood, there is nothing but rubble - crumbling stone and twisted metal - and the occasional standing chimney. Some houses were lucky. There are houses with burned down garages. But there are also garages with burned down houses.
Since then, of course, it's rained. Early on, the rain would gather on the ground and form puddles that filled with ash: tiny black lakes too dark to create a reflection. But the rain brings hope for the Black Forest burn scar, and already, grass and tiny, green plants are peeking out from the ash.
That life, that growth, is a symbol of hope for the residents of Black Forest. Where plants can grow, life can be lived, and lives that were shaken and bent (but not broken, never broken) will be rebuilt.
Families with standing houses are now taking fire mitigation more seriously, cutting down trees near their houses. My dad calls it "closing the barn door after the cows get out," but we all have faith that it will keep us safe in the years to come.
Volunteer groups like Samaritan's Purse are out every day, helping families clear their damaged properties. You can always tell because the road is lined with 20 or 30 cars. The sheriff has set up a temporary station outside the community center at Black Forest Road and Shoup Road, one of the many community buildings that firefighters risked their lives to save.
Those firefighters have built a thankful community. Driving through the forest, I see more signs that say "thank you" than people mourning loss. One family wrote "We <3 Black Forest" and "Thank you" on their brick chimney, which is the only standing structure on their property on Black Forest Road. Homes that are still standing sport signs saying "thank you for saving our home" and "God bless."
And while it might be true that houses burned down, homes did not.
The residents of Black Forest are strong.