The past is a funny thing. It’s the present, but it’s also the future. One of the reasons I’ve been writing one complete piece of poetry every day for the last seven years, is as a chronicle of my thoughts and my life. Today I stumbled up on “Wildfire Season”. A piece written in May of 2019. A bad fire season if I recall. Not unlike today. Here in Northern Alberta and Northeastern British Columbia, Canada, we’re dealing with a terrible wildfire situation right now. A dry Fall, coupled with a long, cold Winter with little snow, and a spring that has yet to yield any rain, have left our vast forests tinder dry. As of today, dozens of out-of-control wildfires are burning throughout the province. Many villages, small towns, and even some small cities are under evacuation order, or notice of evacuation. This is as bad as it has been since… well… 2019.
And that’s what’s interesting about going back and reading and analyzing some of these old pieces. “Wildfire Season” is about wildfires, but it is also about the struggle to be genuine and honest with ourselves and who we are. Remember, this was the pre-COVID days, so we had not yet faced the crisis of inter-personal trust, loss of faith in our media, and the crushing weight of government overreach. Remember, back in 2019, the fractures in our social consciousness were beginning to widen. Our division down ideological lines, political persuasions, race, and socio-economic classes were starting to become concerning gaps in the latticework of our society. Even before COVID, we were struggling to communicate outside of our selective social media silos. Today, I feel we are nearly cemented in them.
This morning, the sun gleams red through the smoke that has hung over the city of Grande Prairie, AB for over a week, now. The air is rough on the throat, and there is a fine layer of ash on everything. There is a provincial election this month, so the parties to the right and the left clamor for time in the ever-smoke-darkened limelight, each trying to point to how they will handle these emergent crises. One side claims the fires are caused by Climate Change. Perhaps, but we all know the forest must burn in order to propagate. That’s just the way our largely coniferous forests grow and renew. Bush fires, wildfires, and these types of events are not new, they are just bigger than we remember, because we haven’t lived here for very long. These areas haven’t even been populated for 200 years. Not to say that Climate Change doesn’t play a part. Everything changes all the time. The biggest factor in these fires is that many of them are human caused. Careless cigarettes, burning refuse, driving ATV’s in dry forests, and arson are all contributing factors. The United Conservative Party of Alberta, currently in charge of government, and the ensuing Alberta Forestry response, has a challenging and dangerous situation before them.
So, what good comes of interjecting our politics, our media, or our divisions around how we think about Climate Change into a natural disaster? Yes. Human caused fires are natural. Humans are part of the environment. But how does this benefit us? How we judge our civilization, and our communities is how we come together during times of hardship and crisis, and so far, at least anecdotally, I have heard of many examples of great selflessness and people coming together. Perhaps there is some clarity and vision amongst us still, some true way forward that survives these types of fires. In the end, people who lost their homes must rebuild. They need community. We need each other.
So, how different are we in 2023 than we were in 2019, when I penned “Wildfire Season”? Did we learn anything from those fires? Did we climb the ladder that I describe in the piece? The one whose “…rungs get really far apart as you get higher.”? Well, we just went through the largest international crisis since WWII. We’ve been set at each other’s throats over masks, and vaccines, and safe spaces. Our social divides are even more disparate, and our media and politics seem more fractured and ineffective than ever. I’m not sure I can say we’re somehow “better off” than four years ago. I can say that the goodness of human beings still exists. The light that keeps the darkness at bay is still burning. Communities, families, and networks are still out there doing what they can to mitigate the misery caused by this year’s wildfires. We may not be better, but I don’t think we’re any worse. I think this is how we grow, just like the forest. From fire to fire. From crisis to crisis. We get driven forward and made better by trial and hardship. Our goodness only comes out when we are tested. Maybe these are those rungs that get really far apart as we get higher, because the further we go, the harder this seems to get, but maybe it was always this way.
Huge shout out to our Alberta Forestry firefighters, our community fire fighters, and our volunteer fire departments who are out fighting these fires. Thank you to the volunteers running the evacuation reception stations, those donating time, and money, and food, and in some cases their homes to the fire evacuees. I pray for rain, but I also pray that each of us remembers that we are a son, a daughter, a friend, a neighbor, and quite possibly the answer to someone else’s prayers in a time of crisis. This is an opportunity for all of us to be there for each other, and maybe we can heal some of the gaps that have formed in our communities and our society since the last wildfire season.
God Bless you all.