Until recently the concept of a “fire season” was rather abstract for me – something in the news that other people cared about. But recently it has been looming large in my consciousness and subconscious.
Fire Season is one of the semi-official seasons that define life in the Methow Valley, where Jim Ginn and I built a country home. In this valley in the North Cascades, we definitely have the traditional four seasons - Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall - but we also have some extras. In March and April comes Mud Season. That’s when the snow melts and mud of varying depths covers everything and everybody for a time and long-time residents plan vacations to other parts of the world. And there is Fire Season, which begins some time during the summer and lasts until the first big rains of Fall.
We had a taste of Fire Season last year while beginning to build our house, but I don’t remember a lot of impact. It was hot and dry and we worked hard in the heat. Some days were smokier than others, but they didn’t leave much of an impression.
This year was different. In July a fire started burning one valley to the south of us along the Twisp River. In the early days our neighbors worried that it would cross the ridge and come down the Wolf Creek drainage right to our doorsteps. Another fire started to the northwest in August, but no one seemed too concerned that it would reach any houses.
And then the smoke came – from Siberia, British Columbia, California, and our own neighborhood blazes. Air quality became very bad, so bad that we had to cut back on working outside and stop bicycling altogether. At one point in August the air actually made us sick with scratchy throats and nausea. We finally fled back to Seattle so we could breathe some relatively clean air.
Some days this fire season have been downright depressing – like the day when I looked out at the smoke and wondered aloud how, if fire season is part of the “new normal,” what difference does anything else I do make for our environment? Other days the effects were more subtle, but an undercurrent of anxiety and uncertainty never leaves. It’s made me think about how one lives positively through Fire Season, or other seasons that seem to set our lives ablaze.
Finally an answer came: Awe and Gratitude.
I’ve been awed by clear mornings when the air is suddenly clean again and we are free to enjoy our beloved valley for a few hours, by nights when the stars twinkle through a hole in the smoke, and by sunrises and sunsets set ablaze by the fumes.
And I am grateful. For the thousand firefighters, most living in tents, who have kept the local fires from spreading into occupied areas. For the table full of forestry and national park managers eating pizza next to us the other night, who came from all over the country to fight the fires. That we were able to pay for their pizzas. And for the continuing gift of our country home, the fruit of our labors both metaphorically and literally, but also a great gift that we hope to share with friends and family for years to come.
In a way Fire Season is teaching me how to survive and thrive through the chaos of our times. It is guiding me to move beyond anxiety and fear and to live each day, each moment, to the fullest. To stop staring at the ground, to look up, and to see the riches all around us. To be in awe of them. To be grateful.