Somewhere near the corn-on-the-cob display in our local grocery store I heard a snippet of conversation. The speaker was bemoaning the murky skies that were ruining our record-breaking string of sunny days here on the western side of the Cascade Mountains.
Just past the mushrooms and sweet peppers I greeted an acquaintance who mentioned how weird the air was, and that you could actually look straight at the sun that was now bright red, and how everything was eerie out there and made her feel irritable. And I couldn’t stop myself from saying, “We’d feel more than irritated if we were refugees from the wildfires on the other side of the mountains.”
I was tired of hearing how inconvenienced some Puget Sound folks were feeling after nearly two weeks of raging fires that they saw on their TV screens – but not out their own living room windows. How little empathy they felt for the people caught in the chaos. On our “safe side” of the mountains we were worried that we’d have to cancel a backyard potluck barbecue, but didn’t think much about the fire fighters and smoke jumpers who had been injured or had lost their lives.
On the eastern side of the Cascades there were a hundred wildfires that consumed nearly half a million acres of trees. Thousands of people were evacuated. Our whole bioregion had had no appreciable rain in three months. On September 2 Governor Inslee issued a proclamation stating that “a State of Emergency exists in all Counties in the state of Washington.” (Many of those fires are still not contained, a month later.)
The opaque smoke that drifted westward over to our side of the mountains turned the air an orange-brown and threatened the health of children and anyone with pulmonary problems. During the days of densest smoke, small flakes of ash fell on our side of the mountains, like a malignant snow.
A few weeks ago I drafted a poem entitled “Prayer to the Scarlet Sun.” A colleague encouraged me to see that it got published soon, “so that our brothers and sisters on the other side of the mountains know that we’re thinking about them.” I said I didn’t know of any publications that had that specialized focus, and she suggested that I contact the Washington state Poet Laureate, Tod Marshall, to ask his advice. I did just that, and he emailed back immediately, saying that he’d publish the poem himself, on his website. He kept his promise, and you can read the poem at https://wapoetlaureate.org/ .
I’m grateful that I’m not in the path of the current wildfires. I’m grateful to my Muse, who inspired my poem; grateful to my writing friend who encouraged me to circulate it; grateful to Tod Marshall who made that happen; and grateful to you, for following the link, reading the poem, and setting aside a few moments of thought for all those people who still are caught in the chaos and loss and devastation of the wildfires. Your attention WILL make a difference, in the larger scheme of things.
Cynthia, I am just now finding time to read the Community Ways in which you shared your blog and your poem. I have been overwhelmed about all I see and read about these consuming fires in California feeling so helpless as what to do to alleviate the suffering so many are enduring. Thank you for touching my heart with your blog reflections and your poem speaking for others who do not have your gift of words. God bless you for all the gentle, tender care that you give to others.
Rosemary, thanks for allowing this suffering to touch your heart. I’m convinced that such compassion DOES reach the people you’re thinking of, and DOES make a difference in our world.
Cynthia, so true your desire to reach out to “the other side of the mountains” with compassion. So moving your “prayer to the scarlet sun” whose blazing eye can see the pain and sorrow below. So tender to let those scarred by these fires know you/we stand with them, if only in spirit. I am so aware, too, of those living still with the shock of floods and hurricanes and earthquakes. Devastation in Puerto Rico makes me feel helpless as the people there must feel. All I want to say and shout at these times is: humanity, we love you.
And may the suffering ones, somewhere in their DNA, hear your shout, and be comforted just a little!
Cynthia my eyes too suddenly have more than a little moisture in them. Your poem is quite extraordinary.
Thanks, Johnny. I know that that “moisture” rises directly from your compassionate heart.
Wonderful post and breathtaking poem, Cynthia. Thank you for speaking for the rest of us on the safe side, and reminding us we, too, need to speak.
Thanks, Dot – yes, those of us who have the gift of words need to offer them as we are moved to do so.
Your blog and your poem, as always Cynthia, written with such an articulate voice and so deeply and authentically from the heart connect with what I’ve been feeling and the prayers I’ve been breathing for my friends and brothers and sisters in my part of the world – in Houston and Florida and the poor embattled people in Puerto Rico and neighboring islands. Now I will add Washington to my prayers and best thoughts. How we can fail to feel gratitude for being spared and compassion for all the suffering is beyond me. Thank you for your ever discriminating and empathic voice and your willingness and passion for putting it out there and sharing it with others. I hope you had a wonderful birthday. Sending love, Linda
Like the legend of the hummingbird who brings a few drops of water to dribble on a raging forest fire – when everyone else did nothing because the task was hopeless, the hummingbird said, “I’m doing what I can.” That’s what our concern and our prayers and our attention are for the suffering people – “doing what we can.” If something more is brought to our attention, that might be of help, we will consider doing that as well. Thanks, Linda.
Cynthia, your prayer/poem made my eyes water. I pray for cooling rain, gentle breezes, and healing for all.
Thanks, Margaret – I know you’re as good as your word.
You have a heart of Gold. Once again you see with in “the Margins”. Your vision of mankind stretches much farther than the average person can see. God has blessed you with this gift. Thank you for sharing it with us, and for continuing to open our eyes.
And gratitude coming back to you, for being brave enough to allow your eyes to open!
For weeks and weeks I have been posting images of the fires and the devastation they are causing and am appalled that there is so little mention in the media. I know that are catastrophes elsewhere, but this is hell on earth for all those fighting these fires and for those humans and animals that must run for their lives. My heart breaks for all those who are suffering from loss of home and habitat. I pray first rain but not too much, and for aide and comfort for those who have lost so much. Your poem made me cry…poignant. ox
Tears are a sacred sort of “rain,” don’t you think?
Thank you for your prayers, your gratitude, and your strength. Powerful thoughts to ponder.
And thank you for being a part of the caring.
Your attention has already made a difference. Thank you Cynthia, for your caring, your generosity, and for sharing your process. We are all enriched.
Thanks for participating in a community exercise that feels hopeless but DOES change things on a level that we can’t see or understand.