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.