The Burning

Forest fires play a huge role in my latest work-in-progress (in the hands of beta readers now!) and in writing it I’ve done a fair amount of research into such fires. But I don’t think I envisioned anything quite so globally apocalyptic as what is occurring right now in the Amazon.

It is established fact that fires are part of life on planet earth. Fires are useful in the cyclical health of all kinds of ecosystems. Just yesterday I went for a walk at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, where they recently did a controlled burn over a large swathe of their property and posted signs promising a bounty of spring wildflowers.

The fires currently devastating the Amazon are not part of this natural cycle. They’re not even part of the centuries-old practices of indigenous people who clear small patches of rainforest with fire every dry season, a practice that kills off “weeds” and insect pests and leaves a layer of nutrient-rich ash. The indigenous people have always done small, controlled burns and, after planting the field for a couple of years and harvesting what’s left for a few more, they always let the space return to its natural rainforest state. They’ve been doing this forever, so when you hear that “farmers” are to blame for many of the blazes being set in Amazonia and Rondonia, the indigenous farmers are NOT the farmers we’re talking about. Instead, we’re talking about farmers and ranchers whose intent is to permanently clear land for larger-scale crops and grazing. We’re talking about thousands of acres being permanently removed from the Amazon rain forest.

There’s also the political firestorm surrounding all this. For years Brazil has tended to get huffy when lectured on the (scientifically well established) importance of the Amazon rainforest to the overall environmental health of our planet. The wealthy nations achieved their status in large part through devastating environments with impunity, they said. And now you’re going to tell “developing” countries we can’t follow suit? The general attitude was one of “fuck off.” But there were those within Brazil and the other nations within this vast forest who understood the importance of the Amazon and they formed political action groups and linked up with activists worldwide to engage in what was, until recently, a modestly effective conservation strategy.

Enter Jair Bolsonaro. Echoing the politics of the United States of America, Brazil now has a nationalist president who puts jingoistic Brazil-first profit above all else and has clearly indicated his support for “developing” the vast resources of the Amazon. So the Amazon burns. Animals of all kinds (including rare and endangered species) are roasted within the devastation. Native peoples who have protected their rainforest home for millennia are driven out. And scientists hastily recalculate the carbon balance of our atmosphere and recalibrate hopes of surviving climate collapse.

This blog post has no conclusions. I go back to my manuscript, to my story in which time is marked as much by “before the Great Fires” and “after the Great Fires” as anything else. And I watch the burning.

(NOTE on the image: This is a painting on paper that was sadly damaged beyond repair. The burning of a work of art is not the same as the burning of a work of nature…or is it?)

 

Thresholds

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Today I am thinking about thresholds – but not physical doorways, gateways, borders, or frontiers. No, I am thinking of thresholds we use to mark the passage of time. Last night I watched a stunning sunset on Playa Tamarindo, and this morning I rose early and made my way to the playa in the dark in order to watch the full moon set over the same waters, just as the sun was beginning to peek above the eastern horizon. It was an unforgettable spectacle.

Ursula Le Guin writes, “A frontier has two sides. It is an interface, a threshold, a liminal site, with all the danger and promise of liminality.” I find the thresholds between day and night, between the presence and absence of the moon, equally infused with danger and promise. And yet in this case the promise lies in the confidence that this is a cycle that will repeat itself. After night, day will come again. The moon, too, will reappear in the eastern sky. And as it wanes into a mere sliver, I know that it will grow again to the bright disk of light I saw in the sky this morning. The tides that made the beach so broad, will soon make it a mere narrow strip.

What we remark most, what we find most enchanting, are the markers, the thresholds we impose on time – sunrise, sunset; the full moon and new moon. In fact, the sun holds its place while our planet slowly, regularly, turns on its slightly off-kilter axis. Likewise, the moon circles our little planet on its regular path, unconcerned with which portions of the globe currently enjoy its soft, reflected light.

It’s all a matter of perception.