Yosemite is burning.
Let those words sink into your skin for a moment. One of our most iconic public lands is being ravaged by fire. These are the mountains that called to John Muir, the mountains that he answered with the force of his writing, his communities, all in celebration and fierce love for these lands that spoke to him. This is a place that appears in countless family photo albums, in unknowable scores of memories of uncommon times in a common place. This is a place I have never seen but love, in abstract, for what it has meant to friends and strangers.
The reality is that our grotesque consumption and fear of change are leading us to destroy some of our best protected homelands, that we are proving unequal to the gift of these places. That sadness sticks.
I do not want to assign blame for climate change, for the burning forests and melting glaciers and eroding shorelines and shrinking alpine zones. Instead, I ask for responsibility.
And I am as responsible as the next person. While Yosemite has been burning this week, I have been dealing with the headache and expense of a blown out tire. If a thousand things were different in the structure of America, of the world, then it would not matter that I ran over a nail, punctured a tire, and now need four new rubber donuts for my OPEC-supporting, dinosaur-fossil guzzling, climate-changing, metal box, in order that I may drive each day to work, to earn the dollars that will feed me, house me, keep the lights and heat on via unsustainable fuel sources, clothe me, back-pay for my education, and pay for the repairs to said automobile so that I may continue the same old cycle.
If a thousand things were different…and I begin to imagine what that could look like. All I want, truly, is to live in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone so badly, including myself. That doesn’t set National Parks, or any other land, on fire. That doesn’t melt snowpacks and acidify the sea, that doesn’t have entire ecosystems migrating, that doesn’t entrench a national and global caste system deeper and deeper.
I have some ideas of what thousand things I would revise to re-make a better world. And everything I think of calls me to make my own world smaller and smaller—less distance between me and my food, between me and how I earn my living, between my electricity and heat source and my home. I do not think these things to become insular and isolationist, rather the opposite. Something good, some best bit of myself, seems to grow larger whenever my physical world becomes limited and that is the person I want to be in this or any world. We have allowed ourselves, encouraged, limitless growth in this land since before we were her people. So much so that we had to set aside pockets and parks, protecting some of the richest landscapes from our own insidious manifest. The same American attitude that led us West, always West, always looking for more and faster and easier...the child of this destiny is a world on fire, a nationally beloved landscape destroyed by the same nation. I suspect that more of us know than are saying so that the empire has no clothes, that the empire and the corporate-bought emperors are killing us and forcing us to kill our beloved places, our beautiful world.
It is hard to say those things when you worry that you are alone. You, we, are not. This is the one thing about a climate-change fueled forest fire rampaging through a National Park that I find good—this is a place that lives in the souls of millions of people. And, as such, I do not believe its damage and the cause of that damage can escape an increase in responsibility for its continued health.
I have seen too much good, too much that is beautiful and seemingly eternal to believe that our destiny must be one of fire and destruction. There are other ways of being. A thousand others, if we let ourselves think of them, if we speak of them. And, if we can think them, speak these words and ask these questions, then we can begin to live-find the ways and answers to these better lives.
Now. Even as we have more questions than answers, even now, this is the time to begin living out our thousand different, better ways of life.