Say what you will about fire season. It makes for some amazing sunsets. This was the view from my house last night.
It also makes for burning eyes, sore throats, and wheezing from the poor air quality – not to mention the inconveniences of evacuation, closed highways and the expenses of firefighting and outright loss of life and property.
Our valley is filled with smoke. There was a minor fire nearby, which I believe is now under control. Most of this smoke is not “ours.” What I mean by that is that most of the smoke is from fires burning across the border in Washington and Idaho states. British Columbia is experiencing more fires than usual, but the prevailing winds here in the East Kootenays are from the southwest, which means we are choking on smoke from the country to the south.
I learned something the other day. I saw an article on “The Big Burn,” a massive forest fire in 1910 that burned from Missoula, Montana, through Idaho and into eastern Washington in merely three days. This was in the early days of the US forestry service and they had only a few men with shovels and pickaxes to fight it.
I googled it and according to the maps provided, the fires must have held great respect for Canada’s crown land because the red patches indicating affected areas stopped right at the border in a perfectly straight line. (They looked just like the weather maps on American news reports that seem to imply that weather systems also stop at the border.)
You know I’m being facetious. These boundaries are entirely artificial as far as nature is concerned. “The Big Burn” did include southern British Columbia. The terrible fires in Okanagan county in Washington (which have put an entire county on evacuation alert) have spilled over the border near Osoyoos in Canada and shut down two highways. While we were on a day trip to Idaho last week we saw a fire starting on a mountain near Porthill. It’s threatening the folks on both sides of the line now. Both have received evacuation alerts. I’m sure Canadian cigarette-instigated fires have slipped south over the line as well.
It struck me this morning how often we dismiss something as “not my problem” until it directly affects us. Sure, we all suffer from compassion overload and outrage exhaustion sometimes. We also need to respect boundaries when it comes to being responsible for taking action to solve a problem, but there is really no choice in this big old world that has consequences for one person alone.
Some people say, “This is MY choice. It doesn’t affect anyone but me.” But you know, it does. The connection is not always obvious, but it will show up and drift across boundaries eventually. Unhealthy habits, “just business” practices that exploit the poor and pollute the environment, religious power-grabbing ploys that exploit the trusting and pollute the spiritual environment, political commercials that dishonour other candidates, the destruction of a human life in the womb, even the decision to turn left to buy beer or right to buy tomatoes – many choices are unaffected by borders and will spill over into the lives of others somewhere, someday.
I think that’s what Jesus meant when he talked about being aware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod. It was a metaphor for the way an attitude or idea can permeate an entire society. We have accepted an attitude that our own personal peace and our own personal prosperity are more valuable than other people’s and they can somehow be protected by artificial boundaries. This attitude has permeated our culture. We need good personal boundaries, (good fences make good neighbours) but we also need to recognize our connections and that we have an influence on our brother’s and sister’s well – fare.
I apologize to the people south of the border who have been suffering from a terrible fire season. I’m sorry I never took note until the smoke bothered me. I believe in the power of prayer and I will also appeal for you. If you are reading this from another part of the world, please join me.