A lone clarinet player sat under the Augusta Street Bridge as we completed our last stroll on the River Walk. We had been in San Antonio for the Association for Fire Ecology’s 6th International Fire Congress and the quiet jazz melody lilting over the river was a calming send off from a very busy, energetic, and enjoyable week. I had worked for the past two years with the conference steering committee to pull this off and even last minute uncertainty about U.S. Forest Service participation couldn’t prevent a successful event attended by over 600. With a huge amount of behind the scenes work, especially by our hard-working co-directors, AFE has been organizing high quality events like this that bring together fire researchers, managers, and students for 15 years.
Conferences are also important for keeping the “Fire Family” together. It’s really gratifying to see friends I’ve known since 1988, as well as colleagues from around the country and world (Spain and Mexico). Even the workshop on fire effects I organized included students from Ghana and The Netherlands.
I couldn’t attend conferences without help and am always grateful that Yvonne can travel as my caregiver. After the meetings were over on Friday we took our own field trip to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center near Austin and decompressed from a busy week. Yvonne is very much a part of the Fire Family, helping with registration, taking in presentations, and even managing to get away from the conference and fit in a day of birding with an old friend.
Downtown San Antonio is built around the River Walk, a section of the San Antonio River that was channelized in the early 1900’s for flood control, and later developed into an entertainment district. While narrower than the irrigation canals here in Central Oregon and moving slower than a “lazy river” at a water park, the Paseo del Rio reminded me of EPCOT at Disney World with all the colors, smells, and music of all the restaurants and hotels. Once we figured out where the elevators and ramps were to access the river walk with my wheelchair from the streets above, we rapidly learned why this was such a popular destination.
The memory of the peaceful musician was important to us mere hours later at the San Antonio airport after learning that we would miss our Denver to Redmond flight to get home that evening. Jazz helped us see the brighter side of spending another night in San Antonio - compliments of United Airlines.
Despite the short drive to La Quinta our cab driver was impatient with us, possibly because he wanted to get back into the queue at the airport to collect fares greater than the measly $12 that our trip provided. We shook our heads as he drove off, but felt compassion for him as we tried to imagine the struggles he faced and the battles he was fighting that we knew nothing about.
After dropping our luggage in our room we navigated extremely busy streets and narrow sidewalks to use our United food vouchers at Applebee’s (what a step down after a week of great food), crossing over and under an incredible interchange of 12 lanes. While pop dance music blared in the restaurant I closed my eyes and smiled, thanking the clarinet player under the bridge for the image of solitude that we needed six hours later.
After a few hours of fitful sleep the taxi picked us up at 4:30 a.m. to take us back to the airport. Once we were finally headed north the flights were smooth and uneventful and clear skies, the snow-covered peaks of the Three Sisters, and Casper the Talking Dog welcomed us home.