The Yarnell Hill Fire

There are things that happen to which you must respond. You have no choice. They will not let you rest until you write. Something. And so you sit at the keyboard and begin.

Memories of smoke. Flames. The red horizon. Acrid smell. The blue air. The yellow air. The ash-laden air. Magnificent flaming sunsets, as if the sun were trying to outdo the palette of fire. Anxious scanning of skies. Please, please let it rain. But no dry lightning, o my god, no more lightning. Just blessed moisture on the beetle-dead trees, the crisp grasses, the drought-starved bones of animals. Pray. To your god, to the Hopi spirits, the Navajo deities. To anyone…who might be listening. Who might care if your house, your hogan, your hut goes up in flames.

What to take? What to place carefully by the door, to clutch to your heart as you race out in the middle of the night? Your wedding album? Baby photos? The computer – with so much of your life stored in its cold memory?

Impossible to decide, and so you throw things in boxes, pile them randomly, knowing you might forget some. Or all. You think of tornado victims, who do not have to decide. Whose entire life possessions are whirled away, no decisions to be made. Lucky to escape with their lives. As you would feel lucky. And broken. And grateful to whichever of those gods listened.

Most of all, you feel gratitude to those who are out there in the midst of the inferno. Who are blackened and weary and brave beyond belief. Who go for hours without sleep, without food, without fear. You bless them every moment as you stand out on your porch and watch the mountain burn. As you cry for the beautiful forest, the animals fleeing in terror…

I am fortunate, the town of Flagstaff, Arizona is fortunate. During the several fires that blazed in the years I lived there, no homes were lost, and I did not have to flee my home.

Yes, there are tragedies in the world with numbers of sorrows too enormous to count. The deaths of innocents, the deaths of brave men and women in incomprehensible numbers. The slow deaths – starvation, lack of water. Of course, the horrors of war. Anywhere. Any war.

But we and our words must respond to what is before us now in this moment. And though I do not live in fire country anymore, I will never forget the fear of it. So I respond, so I remember, so I pray…

My deepest sympathies and prayers to the families of the nineteen firefighters who lost their lives…