Friday, 21 August 2015

Smoke on the Water

Standing in a spot in the river that is usually waist deep this time of year, but today it barely covers my ankles. In this channel, the flow from the main stem is almost entirely cut off. I’m not surprised. I’ve had a whole season to watch the water level diminish. Back in early March–a time when there is usually a few feet of snow on the ground in this mountain range–I was preparing garden beds wearing nothing but a pair of shorts. Most of the low to mid elevation snow was gone by then. Without that snowpack, it wasn’t a stretch to imagine that during this time of year–the scorching month of August–the river would be exceptionally low. 

People who’ve lived here for years said not to worry. June will be rainy they said. It’s a natural occurrence that the old time farmers of this region have always counted on. But this year, it didn’t come.

Things are no longer how they were.

Along many stretches of the river, one can walk right across it in knee to ankle deep water without being swept downstream. 
All of its feeder creeks are low–lower than anyone whose been here a long time has ever seen. Two that I know of have completely dried up. One of them was nothing but a trickle two months ago. 

Today, the scene around me is apocalyptic, smokey and surreal. Massive fires to the south are consuming the forest–forests that have decades worth of piled woody debris stacked up on the forest floor. Back in the day, periodic wildfires cleared this material from the understory with a hot flash of tremendous heat that moved through and burned out quickly, without wreaking total catastrophe.  

Nature assigned fire a role that worked to create more balance and harmony.

But now, with over one hundred years of fire suppression designed to suit industrial forestry, a tremendous fuel load exists in many areas. With drought driven by climate change and its exceptionally hot temperatures, it was inevitable that the west would go up in flames.

Standing in the river trying to cool off, I strain my eyes, peering into the gray smoke blowing up from the south and try to make out the usually distinct lines of the mountains. 
Visibility is poor. A few hundred meters and everything vanishes. Closer, all the lines are softened like a charcoal drawing on paper. 
The wind is blowing hard as it often does now (something the old timers say is a new phenomenon), and the leaves of cottonwood trees are raining down with ashes. It’s scary. The mountains are burning. There’s a water shortage. Some people have lost everything they have worked for. But again, like my own dwindling river, none of it is surprising. Our collective disengagement from the natural world has led us to this point. The result of corporate driven disrespect for air, trees, water, and animals can no longer be ignored. We must do something different. Simplify. Downsize. Grow food where possible. Become bioregional. Connect to the fecund world of the woods. Gather your tribe, coalesce with your community, listen to what the land is trying to tell you, even if it is under a thick layer of concrete. Doing these things won't stop catastrophe, but they will help prepare us to live more harmoniously in the world that grows out of the ashes of the old.  

Tonight I will dance for rain, but if my prayers go unanswered, I will not shake my fist at heaven; I will not curse the fire because a part of me knows that Earth now demands we face the burning, choking reality that we’ve created and then, just maybe, we'll be able to create a new existence–one that is reverent,  respectful, and in balance with this planet that is our home.