What a difference a week makes. Last week I was revelling in the grandeur of the great outdoors. This week I’m sequestered from it, seldom venturing out-of-doors because of the proximity of a fire.
The streets of our city are now relatively deserted. Two weeks before Christmas. The people who are venturing out are wearing specific kinds of face masks to help filter the fouled air. We’ve been repeatedly warned to stay inside. Many stores and most schools are closed. Neighboring towns have had to evacuate.
Some people leave at the first sign of trouble, others hold out. There’s always a certain amount of uncertainty around these events and unless the firemen order an evacuation, it’s a judgement call. From my personal experience, the women are the first to say, let’s get-the-hell-out-of-here! The precariousness of a slight wind change can change the future of a life in just moments.
The world starts feeling increasingly and uncomfortably surreal as a fire progresses because nothing looks as you would expect it to. This what has become of our picture postcard town over the last several days. I haven’t shown the fallen ash that coats our trees, sidewalks and cars.
There’s a fine line between laughing and crying they say, and there’s a fine line between reactions to the spectacular nature of a major fire. Fascination quickly turns into Alarm. At first, I note a subtle difference as sunlight is filtered through the smoke. It’s like looking at the world through rose-coloured glasses. Everything becomes tinged with pink. It doesn’t register immediately as a danger sign to me. One glance at the sun, as a cherry red disk in the sky, lets me know otherwise. That triggers a small bit of excitement within me. You understand very quickly at a primal level that you might be in for a battle. The fight/flight response is activated.
Pink turns to yellow before turning to yuck.
The sky quickly loses its allure when it takes on a grey-brown yellow color as visibility and air quality diminish.
The vicious Santa Ana winds have not hit here. We experience an eerie stillness that feels just plain weird. Mild excitement morphs into mild anxiety, as reports from other affected communities come in. It’s wait and see for us. I gasp as videos of the fire’s ferocity become available. I try to imagine how it feels to homeowners as images of destroyed lives and homes are shown on the tv screen.
How quickly one’s life and landscape can transform from “normal” to deadly! It’s awe-inspiring and horrifying to see the color of the night skies above the active fire ridges turn from black to psychedelic orange. Our electricity flickers off and on as if to remind me that it could go down at any moment for good, making a difficult situation much more so.
I have an ominous feeling that the destruction of our natural world is mirroring the destruction of our political landscape. My sense of stability has been altered since Trump took office.The word “apocalypse” comes to mind. I’m reminded of the emotional discomfort I felt in my teens when I watched the movie On the Beach The film made me into a lifelong anti-nuclear activist.
At one point, the fire reaches the Pacific.
Life can change in an instant. We all know this, but living through a natural disaster brings it home with force. I now think of the many people for whom this uncertainty is a daily reality and acknowledge I’ve had it easy in my life. I resist thinking that this is the new normal, although my governor and my knowledge, suggest otherwise.
Because of climate change, we are told that there is a likelihood of these events becoming more frequent. Fire season has always been a part of life in CA, but now the season has extended in both directions. The unease I feel is partly a result of the knowledge that there are millions of Americans who still do not take this threat (i.e. climate change) seriously. Woe unto them and woe unto us. Their denial means we all face a more precarious future, living on the edge of fire, hurricanes, flooding etc. that will present more and more challenges and bring with it more tragedy.
Please, please pay attention.