but what any sentient person might say:
The fires are horrifying.
A consuming history- and life-erasing hurricane inferno of destruction and heartbreak.
When I look at the map the fires are almost too big to grasp:
The big fire — Hermits Peak — started in early spring — April 6th. April 6th!
A hard lesson for me living in New Mexico coming up on 30 years now is that the rhyme of my mid-Atlantic youth — “April showers bring May flowers” — holds absolutely zero truth in New Mexico. Rather spring in New Mexico means WIND. Fierce, relentless, dust-driving wind. Even with that though, this year is the first time I’ve EVER received a warning to seek cover from a wind storm, as I did on April 22nd:
My understanding and experience is that June is New Mexico’s hottest, driest month and marks the height of fire season. That’s why I usually leave New Mexico in June.
And then those gorgeous, blessed monsoonal rains come in July. Hallelujah!
But June. June heat and wind and smoke in April and May. We’ve had June weather for weeks. My watch weather app’s been telling me for days that Santa Fe will be “DRY FOR 10 DAYS.”
This spring I escaped for a while. When I made plans for a cross-country camping trip to West Virginia, I had no idea I’d be driving in mid-spring away from the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s history. How surreal to drive deeper and deeper eastward into green humidity every day while receiving on my phone Air Quality and Red Flag warnings about the ever-worsening fire conditions back home. I felt like I was cheating somehow, bundling up in a wool blanket against the cold on a screened porch in Harper’s Ferry, watching the marvel of grey streaks of rain against the impossibly verdant backdrop of Appalachian forests.
On the drive back west, Mother Nature must have felt we needed a transition, a reminder of what real humidity is. Just north of Memphis she cranked up the heat and humidity to 94/85% while we camped in a forest where vines of poison ivy thick as my forearm trailed up the trunks of hardwood trees. After a restless night of sweating sleep, too hot and muggy for a top sheet or even bed clothes, we cancelled the last night’s campsite reservation in Oklahoma and booked a hotel instead. They say you get used to humidity if you live in it. I can’t imagine ever getting used to humidity like that.
Our last day on the road we drove straight west on I-40 peering the horizon for smoke. For the first time in my life I dreaded crossing into New Mexico.
Soon after the border we saw them: the first smoke plumes. I guess I’d never really studied the map carefully. I just never realized that the Sangre de Cristos were all that visible from I-40. But one glance at Inciweb and there was no question where that smoke was coming from. And the earth….it’s beyond parched.
I thought I knew fire in New Mexico. I saw my first pyrocumulonimbus in 1996 when the plume of the Hondo Fire rose up like a raging giant over Taos Mountain. Never had I seen anything so colossal, so awesomely frightening before. I remember talking with my parents on the phone, “I just can’t bear the thought of all the animals, all of the wildlife….”
“You can’t think about that” my father cautioned. My mother echoed an agreement.
Twenty-five years later, I’m still trying not to think about that. I’m no better at it now than I was then.
Just before my trip, a friend and I were talking, crying “Uncle” together to the Universe as yet another soul-crushing depressing news story made headlines. There have been so many lately that I can’t even remember what this one was. The question weighing over us was: How to carry on? To live day to day when it seems the world is imploding? So much hatred. So much distrust. So much destruction. So much suffering. How to not give in to despair?
I don’t really have an answer. But what I keep coming back to is Kindness.
Just be kind.
For God’s sake, just be kind.
To your neighbor, the testy postal clerk, your mechanic, the gal in front of you at the checkout. To the receptionist, the guy asking for spare change. To that annoying relative, that tiresome commenter. The “Others.” Your partner. To your relations.
I’m not saying it’s easy most or even some of the time.
But surely — surely — it’s worth the effort.
That, and take a deep breath and try to find one small bit of beauty somewhere, anywhere within your purview.
Notice the beauty.
I’ve been preaching this for a few years via my weekly missive. Why? Because I need to remind myself over and over again that if I simply pause for a moment and look for beauty, it can soften the hard edge of Life.
Notice the beauty.
As when I returned home, weary from three weeks on the road and a barrage of worries, I pulled into my driveway with yet more dread, expecting to see a dried-up garden.
Only to discover the flowers were waiting for me.
With astonishment I noticed my whole garden was thriving.
Soon I learned that my neighbor took the initiative to water my garden while I was gone. I hadn’t asked her to, indeed, I had left my garden abandoned, not wanting to burden my neighbors with its care. But she noticed that some of the plants looked thirsty, so she kindly watered them, and kept the birdbath filled, too. I had expected to come home to a wilted and forlorn garden sucked dry of life, but instead my beds were flowering oases, musical with birdsong. I couldn’t stop staring at the flowers.
It’s such a small thing, to notice a flower. Yet the impact can be profound: In just a breath or two I was carried away from despair to a long moment of near perfect peaceful presence.
And while you’re at it, please pray for rain.
If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment.― Georgia O’Keeffe
Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time –
and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.― Georgia O’Keeffe
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Thanks for finding your way here.
Stay safe. Be kind.
Peace on Earth.
~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe , New Mexico
Free from social media since 2020