At the campground I visited this past weekend we heard chainsaws at noon. My friend and I walked toward the grinding and discovered that a tree dies every day in this little forest campground from severe drought this year; and that the rangers have to cut the dead tree down immediately before it falls on a person, or becomes vulnerable to fire. The downed trees are watched closely for days to make sure that a spark from the chainsaw doesn’t catch and cause another fire.
Four tickets in one night were issued to fellow campers who presumed that their little campfire couldn’t do harm. In what universe does a person think that his is a special fire that won’t smolder in the dry ground that hasn’t had a drink for months? The signs are everywhere- entering the campground, and at all corners of the grounds: “No Fires.” And yet, one quarter of the people who came for their Labor Day festivities felt it was their privilege to light a simple campfire anyway– for smores and to keep the ravenous mosquitos at bay; and besides, camping without a fire is not as much fun, so…. I witnessed a scolding from the camp host to one of the indicted fire starter crew. They looked guilty and ashamed, especially when this witness walked by. And I thought, they got caught. If they didn’t get a ticket and weren’t told to put out the fire they wouldn't feel sorry. They would just think they got away with something. I know how that feels. Not about the forbidden campfire in a drought bit, but about doing something you know is wrong and you do it anyway, and the high of getting away with it.
Then I started thinking about judgments, and that making judgments of others are at an epidemic these days, and so easy to throw down, and that's hurting us and disconnecting us. I recognized both my judgment and understanding of these fire starter people. I was angry at their hubris, while recognizing that I have my own brand at times. Then I started thinking about how disconnected we are from nature, from each other, and from our selves, often hiding behind a façade of thinking we’re special. Then I started wondering about introspection and thoughtful reflection, and if that transference of collective energy could help us somehow, as we watch things burn, flood, or of a possible coming nuclear war– the manmade suicide plan which is being somewhat diluted with our immediate attention to the world coughing us off of her.
Then I started thinking about social change and the social contract that has been ripped at the seam in what has always held us together- at least I used to think that. We grew up with the Golden Rule and believed that kindness and decency were basic tenants to our lives together, and I sincerely don’t understand how or why that all changed. There are lots of commentary and opinions on this topic, but still it just doesn’t make sense to me that turning away from compassion toward one another and to the planet that we share together is a good idea. I don’t see that anything is being made great by any of this ripped-apart-at-the-seam thinking. We are all witnessing the end to something, and I think that we are really afraid, underneath all this anger, of what comes next.
I am reading Brian Greene’s “The Elegant Universe” and it helps me daydream about alternate universes. In an alternate universe we didn’t go to war in Iraq. In an alternate universe we choose love over hate after the 9/11 attacks, treating the terrorists as the criminals they were under the rule of law. We led the world toward unity, global peace and justice for all. In my alternate universe we dismantle all of the nuclear arsenals, choosing life over threat of annihilation, and we work together to solve the problems of climate change, and disease, and we collectively realize that all people just want lives that are meaningful, and that all lives are valuable, and all political and corporate decisions are based on this basic premise. In my alternate universe we choose truth over hyperbole, science over myth, and intelligence over fear. Then I wonder how I can access that me in that alternate universe? Why am I only aware of this one here? And then I think maybe an alternate me is safe and calm and sitting on a beach in Costa Rica, swimming, singing, writing, dancing, surrounded by loving, happy people (sans spouts of being called a “snowflake”).
I see the thin layer of ash all over my apartment, an obvious reminder of the fires so close. The skies are filled with smoke. I follow on Facebook posts from friends who are being evacuated, and at the destruction of trails I’ve hiked, and the once gorgeous Gorge that I’ve experienced so many concerts at. Today I’ll clean the windowsills again, and sweep the deck, and I’ll keep my asthma inhaler in a pocket. The sunset will be beautiful again tonight, and the moon will light up pink. I'll pray that Irma misses land, and I'll wish that all of the people and animals so devastated by events in the Northwest, and in Houston and around the world will recover quickly, but I know it will be so so hard. And so unfair. And people and animals have died already and homes have been lost. And hearts broken. And lives forever changed. And I'll think of the young people who in trust, gave their names to the government who are now threatening their lives. And I'll think of the people who march in the streets fighting for justice that may never come in the universe that's trying to make America great again in hyperbole.
The fires are burning. Floods are receding. Things are still dying. And things will regrow. Maybe like us? Maybe if we pay attention, and if we are connected to our selves, and to each other, and if we are humble with the world...maybe if we listen inside and out, we can create something together- something more beautiful than what is being destroyed right now. Not in an alternate universe, but right here at our control. Maybe there is beauty through the smoke. Eventually...