Fighting Fire With Obliviousness: When One Person’s Disaster is Another’s Inconvenience

If I’m dying of heat stroke while you’re reading this, don’t feel sorry for me. I died in full, happy understanding that it was MY choice to go backpacking where the forecast called for 99-degree days.

I’m not here (again). I’m out on my annual pack trip with my Ironwoman goddaughter Allison. This year we’ve been shut out of our favorite destination by some of the most horrific wildfires Washington has ever seen.

“Oh no! The air quality in the Enchantments is horrible. We can’t go there! OK, so…let’s try somewhere new this year…”

We’ve had our brush with fire before, Al and I. Four years ago we had to literally outrun one. When a huge column of smoke suddenly blew up between us and our campsite, we spent an agonizing half-hour trying to decide whether to race down the mountain before it raced up, or whether we ought to hunker down by a little lake and hope for the best.

We raced. We and the fire passed each other like a pair of escalators–up and down. We saw treetops exploding. That’s as close as I ever plan to get to a wildfire.


The folks who LIVE near those fires on the east side of our state don’t get to plan. At the very best, if they have no friends or family to stay with, they have to find a way to safely breathe that particle-filled air, day after day. At worst, they’ve lost everything.

As of last week, according to the Methow Valley News, the Carlton Complex fire had burned through 390 square miles, making it the largest fire in Washington history.

The Community Foundation of North Central Washington has established a relief fund for victims of these fires. Click here if you want to help. Those folks need…everything.

Meanwhile, all Allison and I “need” to do is find a place where we can walk among the wildflowers for a few days. We’re on vacation. That strange parallel of our “needs” and those of the eastern Washingtonians has me thinking in general about the relationship between tourists and natives.

Tourists are “we.” Our lives are what really matter. Natives are not even “they;” they’re backdrop. Scenery.

I know this because, after decades of being a tourist in other people’s pretty backyards, I’m now a native myself. Tourists overrun our beautiful island in July and August. For the most part they are very respectful. But their obliviousness–riding their bikes down the middle of the road while we’re just trying to get to work; asking “What time do the whales come by?” –reminds me uncomfortably that I probably have exhibited this same behavior to some other eye-rolling community in my past.

But…back to me and Al for a second. Not only has our past trip been interrupted by fire, it’s also been interrupted by ice. One year we climbed up to our favorite 7,000-ft., wildflower-covered mountain lake area only to find it still under snow. Yeah, I know this isn’t exactly relevant to my theme, but discussing our pack trip gives me the excuse to share this wonderful video Al took of a goat stuck on a rock in the middle of rushing stream about to plummet over a waterfall. The log it wanted to cross on was covered with ice, so it jumped onto the rock, and…

Don’t worry. That goat finally made the leap safely across. And Al and I are probably just fine right now, camping somewhere in clear air. But wherever we are, I am thinking about the folks in the path of that giant fire, and hoping their lives will recover.

So right now, maybe you too could spare a thought for the “locals” in your favorite vacation spot who might be suffering. Are you a “local” yourself? Have you ever found a way to be a more tuned-in tourist than I have been?

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