Tag Archives: Wildfire

the scorching truth arrives

Enter reality on the boil as the consequences of hotter days become an irrefutable fact of a world facing peril. Distant and vague no longer hipsters on Capitol Hill in Seattle are having their own personal polar bear moment.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justine Trudeau facing a ticklish problem continues to voice his support of Alberta’s tar sands extraction. For now, puckish political raconteur can offer support for these life threatening fossil fuels, but there is a global campaign underway to make mass environmental destruction, known as ecocide an international crime similar to genocide and war crimes. The new law would in part make it illegal to commit a crime against nature, not just a crime against people.

The proposal states, “For the purpose of the Statute, “ecocide” means unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of sever and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.”

Rude awakenings have been the hallmark of the Anthropocene epoch. Crafty political operatives give and receive orders verbally one on one, nothing on paper, no witnesses, leaving no legal trail, no fingerprints, no self-incriminating evidence. Incitement to riot can’t be charged without ironclad evidence of the speaker’s state of mind. Wink-wink-nod-nod…so it goes.

Three weeks ago, I was caught in a heatwave on Interstate 70 in Utah where it was 107˚F. Too exhausted to continue driving but still only 3:00 PM I parked beneath cottonwood trees at the Green River State Park waiting for sunset. It was near the same temperature at 8:00 PM. I’d used damp rags and a spray bottle to relieve myself of the heat. By 10:00 PM I could sleep. Hotels in town had all jacked their rates up above $200. Price gouging in a heatwave isn’t a good look for the national hotel chains.

When setting up our van we’d declined installing a rooftop air conditioner. Until this heatwave hit, we had been a bit high handed and dismissive of the potential for extended days of hot weather.

Then, a week later the heatwave hit the Pacific Northwest. On June 30th Lytton, British Columbia hit an all-time high temperature record of 49.6 °C (121.3 °F). On July 1st this little village north of Vancouver was destroyed by wildfire.

Oregon reported 116 people died from the heatwave, Washington reported 78. In British Columbia officials there estimated as many as 500 died. My liquid dance with a damp cloth and spray bottle in Green River served as a warning.

Then yesterday tropical storm Elsa dumped over New York City flooding portions of Manhattan’s subway system.

More deer in headlights and polar bears swimming in a sea searching for the missing ice their lives depend upon.

Lobbyists for Exxon were caught out boasting about their efforts to block climate change legislation. Keith McCoy, the oil giant’s senior director for federal relations described Senator Joe Manchin was their “kingmaker.” Apparently, the ecocide legislation can’t be put into effect quick enough.

In this digitized go-go ever hotter world, there is this sickening feeling that we simply do not have enough time or enough people willing to step up to the fight to save civilizations incessant march toward self-immolation.

Much of what appears to be the disintegration of the Republican Party is perhaps simply a tantrum thrown by the fossil fuel lobby. This is my theory. It makes some sense. Tax break fanatics and deregulatory addicts realize that the jig is up. Cornered, desperate, masks off and in fully revealed white nationalist mode it may just be that most of the Republican Party’s disenchantment with the two-party system has more to do with Caucasian constituents that would prefer to continue burning natural gas, oil, and coal. Civilization’s self-induced existential threat is a wee bit too thick a plot to interrupt the titans of big business and their marionette controlled double dealing politicians.

Hurricane season portends all manner of chaos, the Left Coast heatwaves have everyone on wildfire watch, the drought that effected half of the American West last year has now got a grip on 98% of this vital agricultural region.

Even Florida’s Surfside condo collapse appears rooted in the twin issues of deregulatory fervor and climate change induced high tides that may have helped undermine the buildings foundation.

I meet more and more millennials born between 1981-1996 forgoing having children. If like my daughter you grew up with a dot-com crash, non-existent weapons of mass destruction Iraq War, global financial crisis and finally a full-on as of now 4 million people killed global pandemic you can sort of see how things don’t seem to be working out quite like the millennials had been promised.

Reality keeps punching the earth in the nose. A pair of jacked-up billionaires are racing each other into suborbital space. More and more of us are learning to grow our own vegetables, we’re busy trying to master the art of permaculture and perfect regenerative farming methods.

Time does not appear to be our friend. The clocks nearly run out on our planet. We’re cutting this chance to do something to save the planet razor thin. Bringing my own grocery bags is quaint, recycling virtuous, while the 10 most carbon polluting multinationals remain defiant.

Everyone has basically run off in every direction seeking a piece of the action on the one hand or trying hard as all hell to put that hot sweet genie back in the bottle.  

I’d been warned by my doctor that if I didn’t straighten out, he’d order me put on statins and if I disobeyed his orders he’d quit me as a patient and go find a more cooperative clientele. I didn’t want to eat whole food plant-based diet but congestive heart failure, stroke and god knows what else might happen persuaded stubborn SOB to change. The first year was difficult learning to cook and prepare food I’d never prepared before. By the end of the second year, I was actually able to feel satiated after supper. Now at the end of 6 years I’m delighted to have escaped from eating factory farmed animals. That includes fish, dairy, and bee’s honey.

Eating lower down on the food chain spares the world so many stresses. Plant based diets use less water and land. By now science has warned that crowding animals into feedlots is a recipe for breeding pathogens that could cross over and trigger another pandemic.

I know, I know, so many of you are not ready, the idea of upending your eating habits is not welcomed.

Most of my career I’ve worked outdoors in the sun for audiences gathering in the fairer seasons of the year. In August of 2009 I worked at the Kentucky State Fair where it became so hot that animal control authorities suspended the exhibition of all performing animals. Humans could continue to perform but they described the hazards faced by performing animals to be so great as to be life risking.

If I were starting out again, I’m not sure a career as an outdoor entertainer would be the best choice. On average we had enough good days to make living with the hottest days a reasonable bet, you could probably get by and likely the weather wouldn’t be too hot, things were still workable.

Then Seattle on June 26-27-28 posts three days of triple digit record breaking high temperatures. The usually benign city along the Puget Sound hit 102°F on June 26th, 104°F on the 27th and a record setting 108°F on the 28th. This high temperature record is hotter than records for New York City, Washington DC, or Atlanta.

This whole doing thing has a nice ring to my ears. We’ll need to sweat the big stuff, saddle up a capable posse and corral some of the miserly miscreants in our midst. Then, all of us pipsqueaks we can do better too, but these Goliaths need a good punch in the kisser. You know everyone acts like they’re going to win a fight until they get socked in the face with a hard right hand.

You’re not alone, this sense of the world going off the rails isn’t your imagination, we’ve got us a pretty good pickle of a problem and we’re all about to find out if mankind can step up and meet the moment. Are you ready, or do you just want to play more pretend, like nothing bad happens here? What will it be?

cedar city water grabbers

In the grip of a water grabber

Cedar City Utah’s, Central Iron County Water Conservancy District Pine Valley Water Supply and Conservation Project is worth our thinking about before we go out and cause all kinds of irreversible natural world hell. Southern Utah is one of the fastest growing regions of the United States and I mean horizontal suburban sprawling housing projects that are being thrown up just as fast as a hammer swinging beer drinking football fan can manage. Water is a vital, scarce, hard to come by necessity out here, every squirrel, rattlesnake and icemaking machine from the Mexican border to the Boise, Idaho needs more water.

To be on a planning commission, supervisory board, or to become mayor means you have got to talk fast and find answers to impossible problems. You can’t win without support, and you can’t win support promising to shutdown businesses, slow down growth, and throw your voters out of work. Until now there has been enough water for Cedar City to get into the mess they are in today.

Backwaters of Baker, Nevada

Iron County Water Conservancy is doing its dead level best, but push has come to shove. Seventy miles northwest is located Pine Valley. I been through this region, land is owned by the Federal Government. A proposal to pump groundwater from Pine Valley back to Cedar City is under consideration. That’s all you need to know is that otherwise good civil servants in cahoots with real estate developers want to go from Iron County up to Beaver County and grab the water from a pristine untouched immaculately conceived ancient aquifer. I’m am nothing if not objective, fair and balanced and through and through unbiased.

Let’s wrap our heads around other solutions. Before we begin you should understand taking another track could come back to bite or sting a politician right in the butt end of the ballot box. Best we understand reality before casting about for solutions.

I haven’t crunched the numbers but by aerial photographic investigation it is plain as day that there are a few thousand farms that are going to need to surrender their rights back to Cedar City for the common good.

Water Rights Reassigned

Rescinding a farmer’s water rights is like coming home drunk, lipstick on your collar, a night out two-stepping at the local honky tonk, knowing full well that there are no undiscovered artesian gushers or marriages that can’t end in divorce.

First thing we might want to try is just conserving what water we use now. That rankles contemporary Americans, “I ain’t sacrificing one single inch of my entitled ass for you and that stink eye you are trying to water shame me with.”

Mayor Mobile

That’s one vote losing suggestion right there. Second, every means of water conservation is going to be required to be fully exhausted to slowdown the flow of water from every home and business in or near Cedar City. Low flow showerheads, low volume toilets, drought tolerant landscaping, condemning golf courses, and installing recycled water commercial carwash facilities. That all sounds like some kind of nightmare liberal utopian gateway to socialism. I know, I know, but time has come.

Mule, Jeep or on horseback

Baker, Nevada is a town of 56 good souls. Men and women from this community sit at the foot of Wheeler Peak home to the Great Basin National Park. Not that you are supposed to know or even understand how underground aquifers can all be interconnected, but now that you do know you might just be wondering if Cedar City pumping water out of Pine Valley might potentially cause harm just ever so slightly west to the aquifer beneath Snake Valley? Look at that, just like that, those Cedar City water grabbers have put at risk all that is right and mighty in White Pine County, Nevada.

Wheeler Peak, Nevada 13,065 Above Sea Level

Water grabbing is a big, tangled mess, makes Los Angeles freeway gridlock seem like an almost solvable problem compared to this venomous pit of Great Basin water moccasins. Men, real estate developers and ranch hands are wanton creatures and know more about a 12-gauge shotgun than they do about modern-day birth control.

Drought has the Southwest by the neck. Our swelling population, all the booming communities have arrived just in time for a climate emergency civilization changing reckoning. Business friendly politicians are about to leap into rhetorical obfuscation and pretzel misshaped solutions even the dirtiest devils will regard as even harder to scrub off than a tattoo.

Downtown Baker on a busy day

Timidity will buy time, but it won’t get you what you don’t have. Crystalline materials, powders called metal organic frameworks, can now harvest water vapor from the air. This device comes from Yaghi Laboratory at UC Berkeley. This new solar-powered device can pull water straight from the desert air, and enough water each day to supply each and every happy home in Cedar City.

Lithium mines, geothermal electrical generating stations, Gigfactories, and for the love of God and all of creation you mean to tell me that there is a thing called a solar powered residential water maker in our future? I know it’s hard, but this is where our struggle to coexist with the finite resources found on earth have brought us to. So, dear Cedar City water grabbers, deal with it.

We’re all Hayduke’s now

A.K. Sarvis, M.D. aka Doc

“Did you know that a consortium of power companies and government agencies are conspiring to open more strip mines and build even more coal-burning power plants in the same four-corners area where all that filth is coming from now? Together with more roads, power lines, railways and pipelines? All in what was once semi-virginal wilderness and still is the most spectacular landscape in the forty-eight contiguous bloody states? Did you know that?”

“I was once a semi-virgin,” she said.” Ms. B. Abbzug- aka Bonnie

Edward Abbey’s, The Monkey Wrench Gang was published in 1975. Hayduke, Seldom Seen Smith, Doc, and Abzug set out to go to Page, Arizona near the Colorado River and blow up the Glen Canyon Dam. The novel is an unapologetic portrayal of a gang of environmental terrorists.

Glen Canyon Dam

Abbey never tried to thread the needle, didn’t bother to put some favorable patina on his gang. Hayduke was a Green Beret, veteran of Vietnam War, beer drinking, civilization hating desert loving wilderness advocate. Hayduke had preservation of what was wild on his list of good and the sprawling mess called Tucson on his list of what he called tragedy.

The Navajo Generating Station was under construction the same time as The Monkey Wrench Gang was being drafted. The book was published in 1975, the same year that the power plant went online.

Navajo Generating Station

Last year, November 2019, the Navajo Generation Station closed unable to compete with newer technologies, both natural gas and solar power were cheaper. In forty-five years of operation the power plant released millions and millions of tons of pollution into the atmosphere, much of it falling onto the Navajo Nations land and people.

Not sure happiness is something Edward Abbey based his life upon. A conservationist’s day begins and ends the same way, losing another fight. Hayduke’s barbarism and wretched excesses I imagine were medicinal characteristics for the author to create. Abbey’s doing something about the desecration was to set Hayduke out on the page and let his savage disdain for civilization speak his vulgar truth to power.

Last week felt like I was on the back lot at 20th Century Fox. I’d just come from makeup and heading to the costume shop. I was Hayduke’s stunt double.

Decommissioned Coal Conveyor Belt

The drive east from Tuba City to Teec Nos Pos is 145 miles. Along the highway the Kayenta Mine and the Peabody Coal Company’s conveying system is found located in Shonto, Arizona. Closed now the mine delivered 8 million tons of coal each year for use in the regional coal fired power plants. The largest were the three power units located at Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona.

I opened the door to my van and stepped into the pages of Abbey’s novel. A conveyor belt ran of in the distance a mile or more in each direction, the same contraption Hayduke had sabotaged, the same piece of equipment the environmental terrorist had monkey wrenched.

Inconvenient Truth

Hurricane Zeta the fifth hurricane of the season (an all-time record) will hit Louisiana today. In California and Colorado all-time record-breaking wildfires have shaken communities near and far. Time has caught up with our bingeing on fossil fuels. Climate change is here.

We’re all Hayduke’s now.

autumn backroad east

I’m a roadrunner baby

Running the southern route adds two-hundred miles to the trip to Denver. Once I’d made Bakersfield, I parked at a truck stop, slept there for the night. Sunday, I made five hundred miles east to Williams, Arizona. A local tipped me off to a free campground operated by the Bureau of Land Management.

“Get off Interstate 40, take Highway 64 north a handful of miles,” my tipster guaranteeing, “you can’t miss the campground, the dirt road is on the right.”

Wheeling into the dusty forest there was posted a sign warning camping was limited to 14 days. Squatters can become a nuisance. I was only there for one night. I parked warily under ponderosa pine. Wildfire this autumn has kept people on edge. Terrain was brittle, dry, risk of fire high. Among the long needle Rocky Mountain ponderosa pine, you would be advised to keep your ditch bag near at hand.

I set out a folding table, chair, got my electric skillet fired up slow cooking the one man- one pot dish. Tonight, it would be homemade beans, potatoes, asparagus, and spinach. The secret sauce to being cast a sage culinary vagabond was be spartan like and not make a mess.    

Pandemic dining at its best

In 1992 I lived along the Verde River eighty miles southeast of here. I remember taking my baby girl Alana shopping in Flagstaff. I could still hold her in my arms. I was miserable seeing her grow up knowing that all too soon I wasn’t going to be able to pick her up and carry that baby girl in my arms. You think about the people you love when your camped out alone.

Out here in the southwest where the Mojave, Sonoran and Great Basin Desert’s meet up there has been a great increase in population. Most of the places categorized as in the middle of nowhere and to hell and gone, five miles by dirt another mile on foot, all of that part of the American West is under threat. St. George, Utah was never supposed to grow so big.

In more remote regions of Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico you’ll find solitude as pure as your evil heart. Then, you brush up close to Las Vegas, Flagstaff, Albuquerque, or Phoenix and you will choke on civilization sprawled out over a horizon and cooking at a boil.

Reclamation Project Underway

For my money, the American West is in possession of the crown jewels of our nation’s wilderness. Now each remote outpost is being encroached upon from a new nearby settlement. It is unclear what is to become of solitude, the wildlands have been stolen by a swelling population, hardscrabble loner’s that have struggled to celebrate emptiness are nearing the end of such places. All of us need nowhere even if we never bother to go. The privilege of camping in wild open spaces, counting the mustang off on the horizon, being serenaded by a canyon wren, these are experiences that deserved to be passed onto the misfits and renegade misanthropes.

Fool’s Paradise

I hiked up a gulch fooled by the terrain, read the clues all wrong, ended up in a boxed canyon. Ancient Anasazi people hunted in this terrain, once their prey had been cornered nets were raised, trapped, unable to escape, the ancient hunters armed with spears would press in for the kill.

As the Pleistocene ended, what is now Nevada warmed, ice age animals went extinct, pinion pine migrated north from Mexico. Into the region arrived grizzly bear, elk, deer, antelope and big horn sheep. For the next ten thousand years a tribe of hunters thrived. Early man faced drought, wildfire, and the threat of being eaten alive. Right now a mountain lion can ruin anyone’s day. Important answers to civilizations problems confound people attempting to respond to the mortal risks flourishing in the third decade of this new century. We are acting, you can feel the whole lot of us trying, growing momentum will sweep up more and more, and we will make good trouble refining our path.

I see on my calendar humankind’s next big leap will take place on November 3rd. Let’s get along now, there is a wild blue yonder to chase and a wide wonderful world to save.

world emergency full catastrophe climate change comedy show

Wildfire Evacuee Worried Look

Showmen turn a buck creating entertainments. Producing a live entertainment, large or small, one man or cast of thousands, in almost all circumstances are based on sustaining an audience’s attention.

Comedy pleases audiences by laugh and wit. Tragedy appeals by illustrating the fault of a character in a story and how their demise becomes an enlightened vehicle to lift the audience’s spirits.

I’m not a scientist, don’t work for the Pentagon, have no specific training in weather forecasting, forest management or background in urban planning. For some years now our climatologists have urged the creative’s in our world to come up with art to help make the climate emergency unfolding before us into a popular attraction.

Intercoastal mountains running 450 miles north to south from Bakersfield to Redding are hot dry and prone to wildfire

Years back the Pentagon warned that the coming climate crisis risked plunging large swaths of the world into crisis and rendering them ungovernable. Prodding an audience’s imagination into conjuring up what an ungovernable piece of shrinking ice for a polar bear might look like isn’t going to get the artists job done.

The magnitude of California’s climate change enhanced wildfires is of such scale and scope that it has now emerged as the preeminent threat to civilization. Governor Gavin Newsom is a gamer in my book, but the mere mortal leader is up against the wall concocting a solution to this monster.

Making our cars all electric by 2035 is a step in the right direction. I have a movie by Busby Berkeley that might help if you find it difficult being kept waiting.

Reality in California includes reading news about wildfires, remaining indoors because of air quality, and then finding out you know someone that has lost their house or been forced to evacuate.

Easy or difficult, tears or laughter, sick or poor, in good health or on our death bed’s chances are we’ll have to mount an earnest effort if we are going to take a shot at solving our planets problems.

I’m imagining solar panel installation gags, more renewable Don Quixote and his loyal servant Sancho Panza tilting at windmill skits, Back to the Future lithium battery Elon Musk in the laboratory sketches. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not so hard.

Wine Country Wildfires since 2015

I’m imagining doors you don’t want to open, characters warning other characters not to open it, don’t go in there, and of course they do, and come out comically transformed. Make it cartoon like, you know, burnt to a crisp like Wiley E Coyote and his nemesis the Road Runner of Merry Melodies and Loony Tunes cartoon fame.

There have been 7,982 fire incidents in California in 2020 with 3,627,010 acres total acres burned. There have been 7,630 structures damaged or destroyed and at least 26 fatalities as of Sept 28. The coronavirus has claimed 16,000 Californian’s. There are an estimated 151,278 homeless living on our streets. That’s a burden on our spirits, terrible losses to tally.

40 million all left to wonder what is to come of California

That’s where we are, this is the fine mess we are in. To my way of thinking, neither plastering optimism or negativity on our challenges, we need to remind ourselves how much better we all do as a people simply helping to build a better future for our world.

So, I started out with the Royal Lichtenstein Quarter-Ring Sidewalk Circus, and at the time this show seemed to speak to the moment and lift the worlds spirits. After five decades chasing audiences around the world, I’m thinking of launching a new show, the current working title is, The World Emergency Full Catastrophe Climate Change Comedy Show.  A good show needs a snappy slogan. How about, “I swear to God, you’ll die laughing!”

Work with me people, these are the jokes.

 

Taking the New Normal for a Spin

Burned Out Four

Valley Fire 2015

Lake County, California

We flew south from Seattle to Burbank arriving over the Thomas Fire where the blaze had just crossed from Ventura into Santa Barbara County. Last summer’s dry season never came to an end. Instead this fall the Southland of California was treated to twenty degree above normal temperatures, low humidity and then the voluble Santa Ana winds.

Last nights flight down the coast was crystal clear, picture perfect. While cool in Seattle less average was the clear sky. Less than common still was the monolithic singular cloudless atmosphere witnessed the entire length of the west coast. As we approached Burbank after sunset we descended over the top of Los Padres National Forest. Looking down off the starboard side of the plane we could see flames approaching Carpentaria and further north near Montecito. The fire had in just twenty-four hours consumed another one-hundred-thousand acres with the most inhabited of those yet to be consumed acres in sight. Both densely populated communities are thickly canopied and in any other moment would be regarded as blessed with a handsome landscape. Not visible were the five thousand firefighters who had cut fire breaks. Standing along the break they braced to snuff out blowing embers that might escape from the national forest and ignite a blaze within the city limits of the two communities. Thousands had been order evacuated. The Department of Homeland Security had no answer to this terror threat.

There have always been wildfires, but there had always been a time of year associated with the fires. In decades before the present California had grown to near forty million citizens. In past times the wildfires happened out there in the wildlands far from the California car crazed maddened clogging crowds. An unintentional a price had come due for our obsessive horizontal sprawling real estate development. And as we all know Mother Nature bats last in the game called life. In this instance wildfire had come to speak about the risks homeowners take when locating their domicile adjacent to a tender dry fuel loaded landscape that with one accidental spark and aided by an ill-timed windstorm can ignite an inferno of unstoppable proportions.

My much loved daughter in Seattle and her partner have put off any thought of having children. Even at just twenty-five they’ve recognized and noted that the climate has changed, they know that the world is in trouble and the trouble that most concerns them is the trouble people make for the people who take climate change as a real and present threat. Stalemates are quaint even useful on a chessboard and existentially suicidal when played on the surface of the earth.

Puerto Rico is in super hurricane ruins, barely able to function, its electrical grid destroyed. Houston pounded by rains and floods- turned into a lake and now is mecca for slightly water damaged furniture. California not to be outdone has put on a wildfire show unlike any other. How we react, what we do, the planning and precautions we might take will tell us all we need to know about how smart, how intelligent, how adaptive and resilient our species is. Stalemate and gridlock might be a useful tactic in our nations capital but it won’t work here. If ever the world needed enlightened leadership now is that moment. If you are an optimist it is never too late, for the pessimists it already is, either way Mother Nature doesn’t care. Facts speak for themselves.

great tree

Piece of Reality Prior to Wildfire