In theory, I love a rollicking thunderstorm. It’s one of nature’s best productions, like opera of the gods. Ominous undertones of guttural thunder. Millisecond bursts of eyeball-searing light that illuminate everything, then just as quickly don’t. The manic drumbeat of rain on a metal roof. It’s all very theatrical, exhilarating and wondrous.
Except when it’s terrifying. As in a raucous, end-of-season encore like we had in the valley last Friday night.
I stood on the front porch, watching, listening, worrying, as the storm barged its way down valley. I wish I could have enjoyed it instead of fretting. All I could think was that every one of those lightning flashes could be a fire waiting to happen. The pummeling rain made me feel better about that. Still … It’s the end of a hot, crispy summer, just hours away from the autumnal equinox. We’ve tiptoed our way, fingers crossed for good measure, through tense months without a significant fire.
We did get someone else’s smoke, and plenty of it. Our neighbors to the east were not so lucky. Flames and smoke consumed their lives. The Cold Springs and Pearl Hill fires combined to dramatically exceed the acreage ravaged by that former benchmark for epic blazes, the Carlton Complex Fires.
With all the people crowding into the valley this summer — many of them ignoring the burning restrictions that are meant to keep us safe — we’re fortunate we didn’t have to contend with more human-caused fires.
But nature has no regard for our seasonal boundaries. One day’s as good as the next for a galloping blaze, at least until the snow falls. Firefighters quickly dealt with a few scattered fires over the weekend, and by today we’re perhaps nearly finished with that collective, drawn-out sigh of relief.
Even from a distance, fire can have an emotional impact. It was heartbreaking for me to watch the cataclysmic Oregon fires over the past few weeks. I lived in Eugene for 10 years, as a graduate student at the University of Oregon and then a reporter at the daily Register-Guard newspaper. Some of the towns that burned to the ground were places I used to cover, and retain fond memories of. I have family in the Bend area, and friends in Eugene and elsewhere in the state. I knew what they were going through, because I know what we went through.
The horrible experience of uncontrolled fires in the West was made worse by the idiot rumormongers who spread baseless conspiracy theories about the fires being started by Antifa arsonists, or some such nonsense. Fire and law enforcement officials repeatedly stressed that the rumors were false, and that the spread of misinformation made their jobs harder. I suspect we’ll learn that many of the fires were caused by human carelessness, not incendiary devices thrown from cars by suspicious characters. It’s hard to understand what some people will believe.
At least with thunderstorms, you can anticipate that the powerful spectacle might create more drama on the ground, and be on guard for it. We know that more than ever. It would be nicer if I could just enjoy the show. That might be easier in the spring.
Remembering a true hero
The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cast a pall of sorrow over the nation, not just for the loss of the person but for what she represented. We knew she was ill, fighting to stay alive and extend her active participation to the last possible moment. Her death is nonetheless shocking and, in these political times, worrisome. Her steadfast views of honor, integrity and humanity aren’t shared by many of the opportunistic, values-impaired people who are so eager to quickly replace her.
In the past several days, I’ve heard her repeatedly described as an extraordinary woman. True enough, but why the gender qualifier? I prefer extraordinary human being. That Ginsburg could be my hero, and also the hero of girls whose imagination she inspired, attests to the universal power of her influence.
She never had to make a spectacle of herself to generate admiration. Ginsburg was unwaveringly passionate, principled, honest and perseverant — a role model for all of us. I hope we can continue to cherish and celebrate her legacy. We’re a better nation for it.