We Methow Valley residents don’t always agree, but I bet if you took a poll tomorrow, or any day this week, the vote would be unanimous: it’s hot. It’s 102 degrees, or it’s 105 degrees, or it’s 111 degrees, depending on which thermometer you’re using, but at these temperatures, who’s quibbling? It’s sizzlin’.
When you were a kid, didn’t you wonder how adults could consider the weather a valid topic of discussion? They’d drone on and on about it. Bor-ing. But now you get it, right? By commenting on the weather when it’s unusually hot/cold/windy/rainy/snowy, you acknowledge a shared hardship, which, of course, lays the foundation for camaraderie. It puts us in the same boat, at the mercy of a common adversary.
The common adversary facing all of us afloat together in Okanogan County — heck, all of us in the American West, for that matter — is, of course, wildfire. For the past 30 or 40 years in general, and for the past seven years in particular, we’ve all been on edge when summer rolls around. With warmer temperatures across the globe, dry forests and grasslands with an abundance of fuels, and what seems to be an increasingly alarming disconnect between people’s understanding of combustion and their ability to ensure that ignited things are snuffed out, with the promise of summer levity comes the inevitability of seasonal anxiety.
When a large portion of the valley’s population will be on high alert for the next three or four months — eyeing cumulonimbus clouds with suspicion, sniffing the air warily, tensing up at the sound of sirens — it’s a bit disconcerting that campfires are even an option in some places during this time of year. But we humans just love our campfires. We adore our s’mores, we are captivated by flame, we’re mesmerized by coals. We love our fireworks almost as much as our campfires. For some reason, we’ve decided that kindling up some pyrotechnics manifests our independence more than, say, voting, or exercising our right to free speech.
So whenever we get the chance, we torch things up — often quite impressively. Campfires, fireworks, burn piles and, as my Twisp Valley Life colleague pointed out last week, sky lanterns. We spark ’em up, with intention and precision. We’re remarkably adept at starting fires, but unfortunately we’re less conscientious about extinguishing them, and this is proving to be our undoing, year after year, with increasingly grave consequences.
Before any of us strikes a match outside in the next four months, I encourage us all to whisper these names (and others) to ourselves first: Cold Springs, Pearl Hill, Palmer, Twisp River, Canyon Creek, Rising Eagle Road, Diamond Creek, Tripod, Okanogan Complex, Carlton Complex. If those names don’t stop us from handling fire irresponsibly in our parched little corner of the planet, perhaps plain old common sense will.