The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Archive for September, 2020

Oregon Fires

The winds have shifted.

And today the smoke from the fires in the western hills and valleys has turned back towards us here in the high country. The clear blue of this morning was gone by 3pm, replaced by an ever deepening yellow pall.

And now, under what should be the brilliant desert starlit sky, not one speck of discernible celestial bodies. Instead, the ashen tears of the heart of Oregon drift onto my upturned glasses for some time before I realize why I can’t see.

To old Oregonians, these tiny towns that have burned the past few days mean far more than their products, or reputation. Few have ever lived in these places, but we have passed through them on our way anywhere worth going since we were old enough to read the signs on the road – the ones we’ve always joked about not blinking lest we miss. Towns of only a few souls have been indelibly carved on our childhood memories of camp, of retreats and hikes to the mountains, or to the coast. For those of us also from rural towns, these were sisters to us. Their names have bound our memories to a way of life that crosses the distinctions between logging, farming, conservation, and harvest, living in a unique and practical connection with nature.

And now, they’ve burned. Detroit, Blue River, Vida, Phoenix, and Talent. Otis. Gates. Tiny places all. But our places. The places visitors to our state don’t know.

We knew them. We knew these places as part of us, and it hurts. It hurts to think we’ve lost them. It hurts even more to think, so close to home, of our family’s pain and loss – those who’s lives and livelihoods are gone.

And here, by the Back Gate, its ash falls on my upturned glasses, and on all of Oregon. The night is quiet and still, receiving the haze like a somber funeral procession. Everything seems close, like loved ones who’ve set their differences aside to come together.

The battle is nowhere near over. Even tonight, firefighters race to lay down firebreaks, to try and guide the fires into dead-ends, or back on itself to starve. Unbelievably, law enforcement is not just enforcing evacuation orders but stopping looters. Relief workers are feeding and housing evacuees. Families all over the state are opening their homes and pantries to their own whether they know them or not.

We are Oregonians. We know natural disasters, we know how to heal. We know how to plant, and how to grow back. We know when to pray, and when to act in practical terms. We will do all of those things in their time.

But as we fight tonight, and in the morning, and again the next day and the next until the threat is extinguished, it will be with a heavy heart.

The Joy of Life

Saturday night here in PineHelm, on a Labor Day Weekend.

Its easy to forget how many neighbors – those living close enough to be able to disturb me if they crank up their Hi-Fi – we have here. Naturally, equipment selection adds a dynamic to my “Neighborhood”, thus defined. In other places I’ve lived, I’ve had “neighbors” three quarters of a mile away, and I’m absolutely positive we could have doubled that distance. But here, in the midst of The Pines, the forest filters its domain to its own purposes. People are not yet that big here. And I like it that way. I like my quiet.

And so here tonight, I hear the strains of some music, some distance off, and realize that this is the weekend for all the visitors – filling all the rental cabins that take up much of what is usually quiet woodland. The music is garbled, vaguely familiar, but at home in the woods. Children run rampant in another direction, squealing in distant, freshly unbridled delight at the sounds of their own car doors slamming shut… without them inside. Mothers bark instructions. Dogs bark, just to help. people call out here and there, a coyote calls out, and both people and coyotes reply immediately. It is a delicious cacophony of release.

And the wind sighs like a contented mother through the trees in the background, unheard by most, I expect. There is a Campground atmosphere to the neighborhood this night. The usual barriers of silence and distance are checkered cloths laid upon the ground softening the hard edges of existence with something greater than safety and security. Something in the air has called us out of ourselves.

And I, sitting here by the Back Gate with the dogs? Uncharacteristically, I don’t mind.

Celebration is in the air. No, that’s not quite right. Life is in the air. I don’t know why, but it’s there. It is here. It is good, on this day, to hear joy in humanity.

It is most welcome to hear Joy in the air.