On the New Mexico Wildfires
Here in the mountains north-east of Santa Fe, the winds are carrying more smoke up from the Wallow Fire, down on the Arizona border; the valley below my studio is filled with smoke and the Sandia mountains down by Albuquerque, eighty miles south, are enveloped, hidden entirely, are the Jemez mountains a hundred or so miles to the West—the mountains that anchor Santa Fe and draw so many of us to this blessed part of the Southwest. This has been going on for two weeks, since two camp fires in the Apache National Forest, left burning, ignited the blazed which has now consume 400,000 acres and is only five percent contained.
Walt Whitman wrote in his poem, “Miracles”, “As for me, I know of nothing else but miracles.” The wildfires storming the Southwest might in his view be miracles, devouring the woods long since trashed by lumbering, grazing, and suppression of the small fires that once prevented these holocausts by riding the woods of fuel.
Page Lambert, who blogs on “Connecting People with Nature”, taught me a new word this morning: cynefin, Welsh for the passionate connection we have with a particular land: in my case, the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, and an old 420 acre farm east of Louisville in Kentucky, which I placed in conservation easements twenty years ago. This oasis is now choked by subdivisions and strip malls which continue to eat up what were once truck gardens and small farms.
Fire destroys. That is also creates new vegetation springing up from the soil fire has cleared and enriched, seems a small miracle hardly comparable to the size of the devastation itself.
Development destroys. There is no beauty and little utility in the masses of houses planted here in the desert, where the aquifer is rapidly depleting, or in the vast mansions of the rich which rule the once-protected ridge tops and are empty most of the year—while the plaza in the middle of town fills with the homeless.
Be we who live now, at this point in the twenty-first century, must learn to live with devastation: fires, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods, droughts. How many people seriously doubt that we have, to some degree at least, brought this on ourselves, as highly functioning members of rampaging consumerism—the only cure that is offered for the economic collapse of the US, and which will surely destroy us in the end.
I am kin to the Welsh sheep who, when moved to a new pasture, become dislocated and lose their appetites for fresh grass.
New Mexico pictures from the Santa Fe New Mexican website.