As I write this, my fiancé is out fighting fire. Soon, I will be doing the same. But in the interim, I am holding hope like precious water – aware of the gap between need and capacity – in this season of flux and fire.
It is an exceptionally dry year. Here in Moab our year-to-date precipitation measures at about two-thirds of an inch. Normal is more than five times that amount. The last significant rainfall we received was months ago. When I turn on the hose to water our newly planted trees – now growing crunchy under the relentless sun – plumes of dust emanate from the earth as the water meets it, mockingly emulating mist.
It is still early in the summer, yet Colorado is already experiencing one of its worst fire seasons on record. Over half of firefighters currently deployed are in the Centennial State. Meanwhile, Utah has seen nearly 450 wildfires this year, 95 percent of which are traceable to human hands.
And then there are all the house fires. Last month, while walking the dogs, I witnessed the first tendrils of smoke creep upward from a trailer on Spanish Valley Drive. I stopped to watch and the column grew, as the structure – and its semblance of safe haven – was reduced to ashes.
The sirens began to wail. The quality and quantity of the smoke soon changed. In 20 minutes, it was as if nothing had happened. As if lives hadn’t just been drastically altered. I was amazed at how quickly and quietly tragedy can descend. And I was somehow surprised that the world does not pause to note these moments.
Every day this summer, I hear more accounts of evacuations and structures lost. Every day, fire – in forests, fields and neighborhoods – touches more lives.
But for me, for now, I occupy an eerie safe-zone – tending to dogs and chickens, a garden and home – inhabiting a small world that teeters on the tightrope between lack of moisture and its consequences. I arise each morning anticipating smoke in the air and fire on the mountains. Thus far, I’ve only awoken to the tension between normalcy and the seemingly inevitable. The landscape is parched. With its yearning for water unrequited, it now searches out flame.
I speak nightly to Tyler, my fiancé. He tells stories of spending days saving homes only to have the fickle fire swirl back on itself to demolish dreams. He fights to save livestock, sometimes succeeding. He works 16-hour days, trying to inject hope into an otherwise dire situation.
Here, though watching the conflagrations from afar, I find myself in the midst of a different engagement with the anguish of others. My kitchen table is a figurative fire line, and loved ones continue to come to it with dreams going up in smoke. In the weeks since Tyler’s departure, I have held space for tales of cancer, suicide, love lost, fractured family, failed pregnancy, addiction, hospitalization, unemployment and death.
After one such encounter, I climbed onto my roof for perspective and air. And I then watched a column of dirty smoke rise up from the valley – another tragedy in the making. I felt so fortunate, and yet – as the lone source of solace amidst immeasurable need – so alone.
Loss is all around – even as the cottonwoods sway, the dogs laze in the sun, the tomatoes grow, and my heart and home remain intact.
The correlation between aridity and fire is easy to trace, but I cannot determine the source of this weighty walk with collective heartache. There are no preventative measures. All I can do is remain tenderly aware that security is quickly and easily permeated by darker winds. All I can do is hold the line for those seeking refuge, my home a temporary sanctuary during this season of loss.
Jen Jackson is a writer and business owner in Moab.
ByBy Jen Jackson