Last week, during a drive from Vancouver, we took a short break in Hope. It was almost 10 o’clock at night and the fire near Agassiz was raging, mountain aglow and the plume above it a threatening dark grey. As we got out of the car, the air was thick with heavy, grey smoke. Though far enough from the fire, the smell was overwhelming. I could not imagine what it would be like to be right there, gear on, tools and everything, fighting this hot monster up close. Or the rest of the almost 600 fires across the province.
What makes some people offer their homes to wildfire evacuees, donate money and goods, and even go and spend long nights snuggling terrified pets, while others do the exact opposite; stealing hoses and water pumps, enjoying time on lakes where firefighting aircraft load up, flying drones in hot (literally) areas to the point of aircraft having to land due to added risk. Oh, and there are some individuals engaging in looting, scamming, and basically anything that would transform one’s vulnerability into their monetary gain.
It’s contrary to anything most people would do. It’s deeply upsetting, adding many degrees of aggravation to the issues the province is battling as we speak, as has been for the last weeks. And let’s not forget those who increase the potential for yet another devastating wildfire by carelessly disposing of cigarette butts, or having campfires when the fire prohibition has been with us for many weeks now. It makes everything harder than it should be.
You could liken it to playing Whack-A-Mole with this population group that somehow does not see it the way the rest of us do and they do not only make it harder, but add danger, heartache and push one’s faith in humanity to the lowest point.
Many wonder how to go about that. Harsh punishment such as fines, prison time, etc. I am willing to say, given the very topic of this column, that aside from fines that should cover more than the cost of what was stolen or destroyed, or set on fire by careless actions, community service (compulsory of course, and lengthy that is,) performed by those found guilty might just be what best serves the cause.
I have been amongst those who say that our legal system has it so that often times the punishment does not seem to fit the crime. At the same time, I have been a proponent of obligatory community service (whatever and wherever is needed) that those found guilty should give to their fellow humans.
I dare believe that it might spark thoughts of social consciousness. Perhaps not in all, but truly, hard work does have its merits when it comes to bringing a message through. If regular people can lend themselves to volunteering for good causes, I do not see why perpetrators would not do the same, willingly or not, instead of being given a fine and/or possibly a mild sentence.
There is much to speculate about what makes one go against everything decent and instead engage in contrary behaviour. The various types of crimes against society in times of crisis such as the one we’re now living through in the BC interior, while discouraging and depressing when taken out of context, only reinforce the fact that for every person doing the wrong, unlawful thing, there are hundreds more going above and beyond in trying to help their fellow humans and animals in times of need.
That is heartwarming. Kamloops has become an example of what helpful means when people are in trouble. It would be unrealistic to think that resources can be bottomless, should the same attitude be continued with once the wildfire season is past us (now that’s a happy thought!). But kindness towards each other should, to the same extent and more. As they say, you might not have anything material to give, but a smile, a kind word or helping when you can, that is where it’s at.
I’ve been told repeatedly that social conscience at the level of society is my own kind of illusion I keep hanging onto for no good reason, yet I choose to believe it is possible. Perfect? Not even close. Humans are, as we all know, fallible and imperfect in their actions and intentions, some downright cruel and ill-intended, and there is no point in trying to find out why they do that.
But what if they had to give back in form of work, which means time and effort, the willy-nilly paying back for one’s crimes which will benefit their fellow humans and can yet provide a possible path to reconciling… Fines and prison time, while they can turn some around, or scare them from repeating the crime, might just make many more careful in how they commit the crime.
Should a person be forced to serve the community they wrongfully acted against, it might just help them see things in a different light. Such as ‘this is what your actions led to; this is what you need to do, work-wise, to make it up to your fellow humans.’
What do you think?
Monday, July 16. The air is white and heavy this morning. Last night’s air was the same though a breeze was raking its long windy fingers through it trying to disperse it. I greet the morning the same way I do every day, trying to tell myself the world is just the same, just smokier…
I try to take my mind off the fact that the air I breathe in has small unfriendly particles I cannot see but are present nonetheless, so I can still be grateful for the day ahead.
I try to take my mind off the fact that there are hundreds of wildfires burning throughout the province, displacing thousands, ripping them out of their homes and making them travelers to nowhere for a while. Wherever I look, I am captive in a white world that seems to end nearby, and it’s only the distant noises that remind of the reality wildfire smoke is trying to steal away.
I am not surprised that wildfires have sprouted with such adversity. It has been said by many, that our world is changing in ways that we will not able to predict, or withstand, for that matter, with much grace. In fact, grace has little say when fear steps in. It resurfaces when people hurry to help those in need, which I see plenty of here these days. The innocence of a world where shelter was taken for granted has been lost, but something else gets rebuilt instead. Hope through open arms.
I try to remember that the resilience of the human spirit is stronger than any fire, but taking another breath in reminds of a simple truth: I am not in control. Neither of us is. We are still at the mercy of forces that dwarf us. It’s truth that today’s comforts coax us into underestimating (ultimately a self-harming societal habit.)
I will try today, as I do every day, to remember that I still hold the gift of life within, thick smoky air notwithstanding. I will try to remember that when it feels like the sky is falling over, white and suffocating, I should stay within the boundaries of now, rather than try to make sense of what comes after.
I will try to remember today that holding hope is the way out of fear. Blue skies will surface.
Thursday, July 20. It rained last night, on and off. More is always needed. The plume of smoke that made the city its home was temporarily chased away by rain pelleting in large drops. Salvation delivered in buckets of rain water. Adequately so, the message is written in the clouds above: water is precious.
The sky this morning was a beautiful blue with white clouds stuck to it in carefree patterns. Pup and I took our morning walk near the Golden Sands, as our family has come to call the area near the airport. The river runs on one side, and on the other side a field of green embraces my gaze, hungry for vivid colours and starved after many hazy days.
It’s the simple things that count, the refrain comes back again and again. Clean air. My breathing has turn shallow over the last few days, as if to avoid putting my body through the stress of having to deal with the many particles invading the air. It’s in your mind, some might say. You see the smoke and you feel like breathing is impacted. If only. Smoke is real, dense at times, and it presses on your lungs in a merciless way that is spelled out as ‘shortness of breath.’
Today’s air is pure (informally peaking) in that visible sense that is comforting. There is more stormy weather chasing us as we walk along; pup sniffs rain-accentuated patches of canine wonder along the path, and I keep taking my camera out for another shot. Beauty sublime. Humbling. I wish it were possible to release all these shots of colour and wonder in the days that follow when the smoke returns. Like you release butterflies, you know.
We walk through the trees through a parade of mosquitoes which I am breakfast-on-the-go to; mucky sinkholes, hungry bugs and snapping branches cannot thwart a happy heart though. The air is clean, it matters most.
We reach the water edge, sand pours in my sneakers from all sides and I stay connected to all that I feel, mosquito bites included, because the sky is blue and my eyes are glued to it, to the hills I can see so clearly, and to the stormy clouds that roll up in a chase behind us. The pup runs in and out of the water, exhilaration left as paw prints on the narrow beach.
I am present. Humbled by how easily I can breathe, and by how nothing else matters. It reminds of the obvious. Clean air is where it starts. Life, that is.
The wildfires will continue for a while. Tomorrow might be smoky again and breathing will not come easy, again. The back and forth creates awareness, I hope. That we need to have the essentials in place. Clean air. That we need to think our collective lives and choices better to keep air, water, and soil pirates away and dwindling. So we can be. Humbled by blue skies and able to breathe. Will we?