Gratitude to First Responders: Y’all Amaze Me

“Thank you, Firefighters” read sign after sign in Twisp, Washington, where the Mate and I just attended a wedding. Stark and plain on local marquees and readerboards or hand-lettered on cardboard or bedsheets hung at the ends of driveways, that’s how the folks of the Methow Valley are making their gratitude known. And now that I’ve seen how close they came to devastation, I understand that gratitude even better.



As it happened, I forgot my camera last weekend. But I wouldn’t have taken pictures of the devastation even if I could have. Biking along the lovely Twisp River, we passed an intersection with a steep gravel road marked with an American flag and a pile of flowers. I stopped to say a prayer for the three firefighters who died up that road. Then I rode on, sobered.

At the wedding we attended, we got to see the Methow’s finest in action ourselves–but because of wind, not fire. The ceremony and dinner were set in a beautiful, golden mountain meadow, and the wind was having a field day. Suddenly a vicious gust blew down the tipi-style tent under which several of us had taken our seats for dinner. The groom’s aunt was struck in the face by a wooden pole, knocked cold for a minute, and bleeding. Even though we were high up on a gravel road, even though he’d probably been first-responding to exhaustion point through weeks and weeks of helping firefighters, the first EMT was there within fifteen minutes. The ambulance itself, with full crew, followed ten minutes later. By the time the wounded guest was loaded up for hospital, she was chatting cheerfully with the medic, and everyone felt hugely reassured.

Wow, people. After this summer of destruction and death, to see you operate with such calm competence–well, it leaves me speechless.

So this is me, making my gratitude known. Blessings upon all first responders.

In Praise of Rain in the Great North-wet: Damp Again and Loving it, Thanks

When the rains returned

the trees and I lifted our palms

in celebration.

A wee haiku to honor the weather gods’ sudden recall that our neck of the woods, the Pacific Northwest, is supposed to be dripping and soggy a good portion of the time. Instead, it’s been so dry this summer that even our rain forest caught on fire. We feel like we’re turning into California. (And California’s turning into Arizona. What, I’m afraid to ask, might Arizona be turning into?) In the past couple of weeks, taking my shoes and socks off after a run or a walk in the National Monument land behind my house has revealed filthy feet: the dust is ground so fine it seeps right through.

But now the rains are back!!!! Praise be!  Tiny grass points are already poking their way through the dust! And the reindeer lichen, crispy and fragile since May, is squishy again!

(orig. photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

(orig. photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

To all my friends suffering under the downpours of Hurricane Erika, my condolences. But I don’t feel your pain. I miss rain so much I can barely imagine–no, I can’t imagine–feeling negative about it.

Of course the place that needs precipitation most is the eastern half of Washington, suffering from the worst fires in our state’s history. We lost three good, young firefighters there. So, rain, I love you, but please, if you can, move east.  Then come back and stay a while.

And to my fellow Northwet-erners, a word of caution: I’m a nonviolent person, but if I hear anyone complaining about the rain in the next month or so, I’m going to feel like slapping some sense into that silly person.

Please let your weather thoughts, prayers, and propitiations rain down on me!

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?