Mckenzie River Fire_photo by Marcus Kauffman Oregon Dept of Forestry 9 8 20

Riding the FireWind

August 23, 2023
Roberta Hoffman
Top photo: Mckenzie River Fire, photo by Marcus Kauffman, Oregon Dept of Forestry, 9/8/20

—David McCloskey, © Sept 8, 2020

Prologue

BC is burning, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, N California too….
Wildfire’s become a constant refrain of life here….
Our forests are truly “fireforests”–but its become far more intense:
more fires, wider spread, drier conditions, more dieback due to drought
and insect infestations, larger conflagrations, increasingly catastrophic
making its own “fireweather,” and incinerating organic humus and
glassifying sandy soils, repelling rain…. All intensified by climate change–
its magnitude, frequency, duration, intensity–and human encroachment of wildlands….

Hazardous smoke spreading widely into urban areas, making
it hard to breathe, dangerous to the vulnerable among us….
This seasonal is from a wider meditation on the great formative
Energies of Cascadia–Tectonics & Earth-Forces: Volcanos, Earthquakes,
Tsunamis, etc., Winds & Storms, Wildfire, Ice, Floods, Flora, Drought, etc.
Here a combination of Wind and Fire in the easterly FireWind blasting
downslope thru Western Oregon over Labor Day in 2020…. Eerily echoed
in the massive unprecedented heatdome and catastrophic fire in Lytton,
B.C. June 2021.
A timely meditation for late summer in Cascadia any year, but
increasingly so as the pulse of Climate Change quickens….

Fiery Tongue Billowing Out to Sea_satellite image from Earth Winds

Fiery Tongue Billowing Out to Sea, satellite image from Earth Winds (nullschool.net)

Fiery Tongue Billowing Out to Sea, satellite image from Earth Winds (nullschool.net) the following day, 9/9/20 @ 8:30 pm; I’m from here, and never in my life have witnessed an easterly Fire Wind blowing out to sea, for there’s almost always a persistent westerly blowing off the N Pacific inland….

Riding the FireWind

Sounds like raining   but this is dry
warm   hot breath   as the evening wears on—
I hear it sifting down    all around—
      soft slow   susurrus   of falling ash—
impossibly thin   feathery flakes
striking an alder leaf here    and
the lake’s still surface    over there…

Whitish-gray will-o-wisps
dancing through the miasma—
as ghosts of mountain forests suddenly materialize
far away here at the coast,  de-etherialize—
as if this heat is drawing   some essence
out of the murk   the way
cold dry air   sublimates snow…

      In the dark of candlelight   at first
      its hard to tell the swarm of insects
      from ash falling—then see the ash
      flakes swirling   randomly   in all directions
      while insects     zoom to the light…

As if a volcano had erupted again,
but this time it’s not that sharp-edged
blown glassy-froth rock that cuts and
grinds everything down,   but organic—
chunks of wood, long pleated fibers,
green needles, corky bark—something
once living
      incinerated…

Covering everything in a gritty crust
this ash is fine grained, not like
whispy embers from a hearth fire…
Look close  &  you see
brown slivers  &   tree shards
mixed in with gritty sand    as if
the whole tree & sandy soil
vaporized—when sap boiled over &
the whole tree suddenly  exploded
lifted bodily high up    sucked into the sky

carried away in a towering pyroculumuli
roiling down valley    continued immolating
flying thru the air   caught in the inferno of

            flaming ghost trees   riding the
                        FireWind  out of  the East
far to the west    I followed its burning tongue
      billowing far out          over the open ocean…

Gray-brown shards & grit of the once living–
all that’s left   of a whole forest & community–
      wafted high   into the clouds
      even over the ocean    you can still
      see chunks of wood    dislodged,
      disgorged   thrown to the far winds…

            “The  FIRE   this time!”—
                  How   our    world     comes      apart…

—David McCloskey, © Sept 8, 2020

Smoke Shrouded Devil's Elbow SP_photo by David McCloskey

Smoke Shrouded Devil's Elbow SP, photo by David McCloskey

Smoke Shrouded Devil’s Elbow SP, near Florence, Oregon Coast–this is one of the most beloved places on the wild Oregon Coast–on the bluff to the right (out of sight here) stands the iconic lighthouse and wonderful classic lightkeeper’s white house….

Smoke Spreading Eastward Over US_satellite image 9_14_20 from NOAA

Smoke Spreading Eastward Over US--satellite image 9/14/20 from NOAA

Burnt Aftermath_Blue River_photo by David McCloskey

Burnt Aftermath, Blue River, photo by David McCloskey

May 2021–9 months after FireStorm, when they finally allowed people to visit… even after all this time overfilled log trucks roared by every minute or two all day long, week after week, in excessive “salvage logging….” The whole landscape was twice violated–once by firestorm, and then scraped bare by logging…. many times they didn’t even leave snags–bare scraped rocky ridges…. guaranteeing slope failures and massive long-term erosion….

A Final Footnote

There are many heroic and tragic stories of those affected by the fire, but perhaps none more poignant than that of the eminent Nature writer, Barry Lopez, battling cancer, who lost his cabin at Finn Rock and many years of writings and notes–some not yet published–all consumed in the flames…Tasting those ashes in his mouth, he passed beyond soon after… some say he died of a broken heart….

4 Comments

  1. nancy r davison

    Beautiful, terrifying poetry, David

  2. Sharon

    Stunning piece about The Fire that has descended upon us, truly apocalyptic. Very sad news about Barry Lopez. Yes, a broken heart. When you see the confused and thirsty animals wandering around, as we do here….I don’t know, you just feel half dead yourself. Thanks to David McCloskey for this true poem.

  3. Richard Meadows

    Thanks for a much needed reminder of what has been particularly unfolding sense the strange, apocalypse of Labor Day Weekend 2020. I remember standing in the back yard of my house in NE Portland and wondering, “What is this?” as the skies turned orange and the smoke rolled in. Your images, poem, and information serve that we do not become complacent. The final footnote on Barry Lopez deeply felt.

  4. Richard Osler

    I so agree about the impact of the Barry Lopez coda, made even more poignant by his words in the forward to the 2020 volume, Earthy Love, published by Orion Magazine. Titled Love in the Time of Terror his forward ends with a question that asks in spite all of the man made and natural disasters of our time can we say ” to the physical Earth and all its creatures, including ourselves, fiercely and without embarrassment, I love you, and to embrace fearlessly this burning world.”

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