Smoky Skies

It’s past time to check in with the blog…not only have I been busy, but I am still figuring out what I can ( and can’t) do with my tablet.

The air is murky with smoke this evening, reducing the daylight with acrid murkiness. Tens of thousands of nearby acres have burned in the past week. As I type these words, firefighters are working and sweating around Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and California. While I was cooking supper, the radio interrupted programming to broadcast one of those emergency alerts telling people in a certain area to evacuate now. I have lived through volcanoes and earthquakes and floods, but I have never had to leave my house because of a fire. My heart goes out to who have the misfortune to be in the path of a wildfire.

To live in the smoke is unsettling. It dims the light and blurs edges. It disturbs sleep and seeps into dreams. Where exactly is it coming from? Maybe it’s burning a place that I know. News is delayed. We won’t know until tomorrow what is taking place right now.

A couple weeks ago I was out in the Sawtooth Wilderness with the trail crew. We felled trees and and peeled the bark away to prepare logs to be used in a turnpike project. As we worked through the sultry heat of the afternoon, tiny pale flecks sifted down. They fell like snowflakes, drifting down. Ashes dropped onto my pants and gloves and the huckleberry bushes. Hiking back to camp I recognized whole charred leaves and needles and bits of tree bark lying in the trail dust. Hot wind had seared the vegetation and swept it up into a massive smoke column. I consulted my map and discovered that our campsite was nine or ten air miles away from Wolverine Creek. The Wolverine fire was growing. We gazed up into the smoke plume and watched bits of forest drop from the sky. It was hypnotic. The sound of ash falling tickled nylon tent flies all night.

Down here in civilization, there is much hype and speculation about the cause of this summer’s severe forest fires. Some seem to want to point fingers and assign blame. When fires burn, it is because many elements come into alignment. A lack of moisture, continued high temperatures, ample fuel, a source of ignition. Nearly anything will combust–fire does not discriminate. If there is drama in wildfires, it is because we humans find it there. Fire is a force of nature, wild and simple. It’s an agent of change, and I have noticed that humans resist sudden change and are attached to the idea of a safe reliable world.

Nature is a great teacher. Even after a lifetime of observing natural phenomena, I am still noticing and learning. Everything changes, at the right speed and at the right time. What these fires have to teach is yet to be discovered.

A poem by Gary Snyder comes to mind:

For the Children
Gary Snyder

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us.
The steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light

Stay together, people. Watch out for one another. Go light.

2 thoughts on “Smoky Skies

  1. Powerful post, Deb! Thank you for the Snyder poem. I am reminded that “I” am really “we,” as much as I and our culture fight this thought.

    And “we” have helped create this. I read in National Geographic that for every single degree the planet’s temperature rises, lightning strikes increase by 12%. “Staying together” will involve acknowledging that we ARE all together!

  2. Stay safe out there! All the losses from this year’s fires are getting pretty overwhelming. We have lots of smoke and ash here. I always wonder if I am breathing smoke molecules from places I have trod.

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