They Live in the Same House


Smoke infused sunset and wheat field near Waterville, Washington from 2014.

“I am very happy and very sad”, he said. “Because both require each other’s company. They live in the same house.”¬†

~ Terry Tempest Williams, quoting¬†her uncle Alan (in “An Unspoken Hunger”)

The whole world is on fire. I can see it in the sky and both the sunrise and sunset. I can feel it in the air, the strange light goes deep into my bones. And I can smell it in the air, the faint remembrance of innumerable nights spent around a campfire. Some days there is a suffused orange glow to the world and I walk around, my shadow long even at mid-day. There is eternal twilight like being in the far north and I am a twilight being – unsettled and strange.

Both happy and sad live in this house. These fires are some 60-100 miles away or more and I have the luxury of being an observer rather than participant in this drama. My house isn’t being threatened by flames and my lungs aren’t being poisoned by smoke and ash. These forests burn, they always have and always will. We can do our best, spending billions of dollars, to stave off the inevitable but the natural order will triumph. And the house of fire has within it both destruction and creation, both life and death. And in that way fire is perhaps the perfect manifestation of the natural order, of the laws of the universe. Life and death do not oppose each other; rather they co-habitate in us all. And in its way our fire suppression culture is the archetypal relationship between man (purposefully used here and I could even say “white man”) and nature. Man separates himself (in illusion) from nature and therefore dominates it. Or rather tries. For sooner or later these forest and grasslands and sagebrush flats will burn. They always have and they always will. They must and it seems when we do not respect this fact of life, when we try to oppose it, the fires return all the more ferocious and fierce.