My hands were burning as they hit the steering wheel yesterday afternoon after the car had been baking in the 110-degree Texas heat. The ground is dry, and the grass caramel-colored as if slightly scorched. The car is like a visit to a sauna until the air conditioning cools it down. Even the nights are in the upper 90s.

When we moved to Texas, we did so knowing our summers would be spent in the high-altitude cool summers of the Adirondacks. Though it was always hot when we returned to get the kids into school, we never endured the entire summer, and the heat usually ends by late September. But this week I had the pleasure of waking up in the Texas heat because I came back to host my online Pastel Live event.

A Moment of Silence for Maui

I rarely comment on current events, but like you, I’m devastated to hear of the tragedy in Maui, one of the biggest tragedies in our country’s history. And like you, I’m feeling helpless, wishing there was more I could do to help. We’re working with a few art initiatives to help raise money, but somehow it does not seem sufficient.

Threats of Fire 

A couple of weeks ago I received an alert on my phone about record Texas heat and the high risk of wildfires. After seeing a local town wiped out by fire, I take fire very seriously. So I contacted some folks I know in Austin who might be able to step in if we have any warning or notice of fire. 

Making a Plan Before It’s Needed

My dad trained us to understand that if you have to think under pressure and don’t already have a plan, things won’t go as well in the heat of drama and emotion. But if you try to anticipate every situation, perhaps you can recover, or reduce the negative impact. Of course, no one in Maui could anticipate a fire, which is rare, or anticipate that warning sirens were not operating or that the water system would fail, or that people would not be able to escape some neighborhoods. 

What Can You Anticipate?

The first thing crossing my mind isn’t the stuff we can replace, it’s the stuff we can’t. Things with emotional meaning — in my case, an extensive art collection, a collection of portraits other artists have done of me, and piles of paintings that are my life’s work. What would I do if it was all lost?

I created a list of everything that had meaning, then prioritized that list, and handed out instructions. If there is a fire, if there is time, get these items out to safety first. If there is still more time, add these things on the list. 

Zero Notice

My friends in the Malibu fire had five minutes’ notice. They lost everything. That’s the most likely scenario. In that case, you would at least want records of everything — photos, and things stored off site on a server somewhere. I have most of my paintings and collection documented, but the list has not been updated in five years. I would at least want to be able to remember those things or have evidence for insurance.

Five Minutes to Leave

Of course, fire isn’t the only thing to anticipate. My late mother-in-law lived in Germany during WWII and was given five minutes to leave the family home as it was taken over by the Nazis. What would you grab if you had almost no time and it was only what you could carry? The first thing that comes to my mind, other than important papers, are old photos. But I have boxes full I could not carry. I have family members who have a bugout bag by the door, with some clothes, some papers, and a few important things in case they have to go on a moment’s notice. That’s probably a good idea.

A Big Project

Before my dad died, his goal was to digitize every photo he ever took, along with his family historical photos. We can find them all on an online photo site, preserved, hopefully forever. This is a reminder that I need to do that too. 

Becoming Numb

Yesterday I was asked to participate in a project that will take a few months to be ready, to raise money for the victims in Maui. Yet my fear is that we all have short memories, and after things are out of the news cycle, people become numb to the media coverage and we tend to forget. That’s why it’s important to think about your actions, and your life, now. 

What do you need to do to prepare to leave on a moment’s notice?

What will you regret not having, or not having created a digital copy of?

What needs to be documented?

What is your evacuation plan (if you have a little time)?
What should you consider going wrong that maybe you could not easily anticipate?

Most important, of course, is your life and your family. Don’t go into a burning fire and risk your life to save an old photo. It’s not worth the risk. But having a plan in advance is a great idea.

Eric Rhoads

PS: The horrors of Maui are beyond awful. Families need help, and if you have something extra, this is the time to step up and find a charity that will help.

PS 2: Last night we ended Pastel Live. It was well attended, and life-changing for most (myself included). Thank you to everyone who attended! Our next event online is Realism Live in November. 

PS 3: Moments from now, I will board an airplane and head back to the Adirondacks for some cooler air. 

PS 4: My March Japan Cherry Blossom painting trip has sold out, but we created a waitlist in case someone drops out (which just happened). Get on the waitlist, just in case.

PS5: My Fine Art Trip in October promises to be spectacular, doing the art of Stockholm and Madrid. We do have four seats open still, and you should consider joining us.