Fires and Embers

I grew up in the California Bay area. My parents still live there. I’ve seen photos from today and I know the sky is not supposed to be red like Mars. Fires have filled the sky with ash. My parent’s home is safe because they live in the middle of a town. It isn’t likely to burn, though there was a period where they were on alert to be evacuated for air quality issues. But as I was reading about fires and locations, I recognized another set of landmarks. I looked at the fire maps and my Grandma’s house is inside the “affected area.” Grandma is five years gone, and we sold the house more than a year ago. We have no legal tie to that property anymore. In fact it’s likely that the house no longer exists as the buyer probably intended to demolish it. Yet my heart twinges that a fire might have gone through there. I quick search doesn’t clarify if “affected area” means smoke, evacuation, or flames. It could be any or all. I am glad that we never had to help Grandma evacuate from her home. I am glad that my loved ones can feel sad twinges from places of safety. Yet I am reminded of how much I love that house and how I continue to be sad that it (needfully) passed from our hands and is gone. Fire burning through the area reminds me of the loss and adds a new layer to it because the trees, stores, and neighborhood may also be gone now.

Utah is also smokey today. We have our own fires that are burning, as we do every summer. None of them are particularly bad right now, but they could be. All it takes is a dry wind to whip up the embers and send a fire racing again. We had hurricane-force winds just two days ago which knocked over trees and semi trucks. About 90,000 people are still without power a full two days later. Fortunately the winds don’t seem to have sent any currently burning fires further out of control.

I think about fires and embers as I do my daily check in on the pandemic numbers in my area. The graphs for my state seem fairly steady, but the county-level numbers are telling me a different story. Utah County used to account for about 1/4 of the daily increase in cases. Now it is hovering just below 1/2. My county has two universities which started in person classes in the past two weeks. All of the elementary, junior high, and high schools began in-person classes three weeks ago. Utah county does not have a mask mandate. I’ve been watching carefully, and I think we’re about to see a spike in cases. How high a spike I don’t know. I also don’t know how quickly local officials will take steps to curb the spread or how effectively they’ll do it. (My guesses are not quickly and not effectively.) Suppressing a fire early is the difference between a burned field and a named forest fire. I do not want to have to grieve for people lost and lives permanently altered by out-of-control pandemic.

I can’t stop the forest fires. I can’t stop the embers of pandemic. All I can do is stay in my house and try to distract myself with projects. Yet underneath the satisfaction of working to make my house nicer, is a thread of thought about the impermanence of all things and how anything I create could be taken or destroyed in a way that I’m powerless to prevent. When those thoughts get loud, I remind myself that even if my physical creation is destroyed, the memory of making it will stay with me forever. Making is worthwhile even if the result is impermanent.

Or so I try to remember, when I step out doors and breathe the smell of forest fires in the air.