Summertime, and the Livin’ is Scary

It seems like I spend a lot of time sitting in front of my computer. And I do. But this month has conspired against me, and I have found myself driving around Northern California for the past week, with more driving to come.

In fact, one of the trips my wife and I took recently was to the eastern side of Clear Lake, where we relaxed in a refurbished cabin for three days. Read books, ate pizza at the local diner, played dominoes, watched old episodes of Glee, shopped for sundries at the local grocery store, drove around the area. We really put work behind us. Three days later, after we had left for the Bay Area, a fire broke out just down the street from our little cabin getaway, and now the entire area is burnt rubble. My heart goes out to all the residents of the area. It was just devastating. And how weird to be right there where the fire started, just a few days before. It’s an eerie feeling.

But it’s easy to see how a fire could have taken hold so quickly in those dried-out hills. It was hot while we were there, and had been even hotter all summer long. I think it’s a wonder that the wine country, just south of the Clear Lake fire area, hasn’t experienced a conflagration this summer. It was damn toasty while we drove through on our way south. The whole state is cooking.

We consider ourselves relatively safe on the California coast, in the heart of the redwoods, because it never gets warmer than 70 degrees here in Eureka. But a lightning fire could start at any time. Nature is reclaiming its own, purging with a vengeance. The fact is, these dried out hills need a fire every now and then to clear out the brush, and make way for new growth. But tell that to the folks who built homes up in those hills.

You think to yourself, well, these fires are all happening in wilderness areas, away from the cities. Not so. Back in the 1990s, when I lived in Pacifica, there was a major fire in the Oakland hills that was just monstrous. It gets out of control so quickly. And, of course, there is so much wildlife that is killed or forced out of their habitat by these fires. Makes you wonder what’s coming next…. an El Niño deluge this winter? Will we be any more unprepared for that when it happens?

We’re just ants scurrying around our respective ant hills as far as Mother Nature is concerned. And is this a natural cycle or a man-made dilemma? The conservatives, heads firmly in the sand, declare that we’re not experiencing global warming. That’s comforting. Meanwhile, the temperatures rise, the ice caps melt, and mankind fiddles while the planet burns.

And nothing brings this home like seeing images of the forest you just drove through on the evening news, engulfed in flames. And next summer is only going to be worse. That bumpy ride that Bette Davis warned us about in All About Eve just got bumpier, while the road to another hellish summer stretches out ahead.

You might wonder where I’m going with all this. Well, tomorrow I hop back in my car to drive south again, back through the tinderbox we call Northern California, to visit with old friends at that high school reunion I mentioned two weeks ago. I can only hope that the only fires I encounter this time are the “old fires” of burning nostalgia.

–Greg Shepard

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