Photo by S. Auberle
There are things that happen to which you must
respond. You have no choice. They will
not let you rest until you write.
Something. And so you sit at
the keyboard and begin.
Memories of smoke.
Flames. The red horizon. Acrid smell.
The blue air. The yellow
air. The ash-laden air. Magnificent flaming sunsets, as if the sun
were trying to outdo the palette of fire.
Anxious scanning of skies. Please, please let it rain. But no lightning, o my god, no more lightning. Just blessed moisture on the beetle-dead
trees, the crisp grasses, the drought-starved bones of animals. Pray.
To your god, to the Hopi spirits, the Navajo deities. To anyone…who might be listening. Who might care if your house, your hogan,
your hut goes up in flames.
What to take?
What to place carefully by the door, to clutch to your heart as you race
out in the middle of the night? Your
wedding album? Baby photos? The computer--with so much of your life
stored in its cold memory?
Impossible to decide, and so you throw things in
boxes, pile them randomly, knowing you might forget some. Or all.
You think of tornado victims, who do not have to decide. Whose entire life is whirled away, no
decisions to be made. Lucky to escape
with their lives. As you would feel
lucky. And broken. And grateful to whichever of those gods
Most of all, you feel gratitude to those who are
out there in the midst of the inferno.
Who are blackened and weary and brave beyond belief. Who go for hours without sleep, without food,
without fear. You will bless them every
moment as you stand out on your porch and watch the mountain burn. As you cry for the beautiful forest, the
animals fleeing in terror…
I am fortunate, the town of Flagstaff, Arizona is fortunate. During the several fires that blazed in the years I lived there, no homes were lost, and I did not have to flee my home.
Yes, there are tragedies in the world with numbers of
sorrows to enormous to count. The deaths
of innocents, the deaths of brave men and women in incomprehensible
numbers. The slow deaths-- starvation,
lack of water. Of course, the horrors of
war. Anywhere. Any war.
But we and our words must respond to what is before us
now in this moment. And though I do not
live in fire country anymore, I will never forget the fear of it. So I respond, so I remember, so I pray...
My deepest sympathies and prayers to the families of the nineteen firefighters who lost their lives.