Burnt more than my portion of fossil fuels flying out to participate in the Sierra Storytelling Festival. Now if you have never been to northern California the only way to describe the culture is that it’s the only place in the country where you can walk into the 7/11 and find black bean burgers and tofu pups on the grill. From the ashram down the road to the broad array of cannabis farms, from children running barefoot, unafraid of strangers, to the cultural center boss (an absolute angel), tattooed in most visible places, you know that you are not in Kansas any more. Here, there was hearing and deep listening available for all manner of story. From Muriel and Diane’s African-American folktales to the riotous humor of Andy and Kevin, to the personal and cultural stories that Johnny Moses carries like a living encyclopedia of the many cultures and languages he emerges from, to Tim’s fairy tale, and my stories of dysfunctional eating, adopted sons, and our climate crisis, hearts and minds were fully opened. The work was joy…and I learned a lot about cannabis farming!
On the opening night, a wild fire, only one in a long series that erupts during this time of year, sparked a few miles from the festival site. Wildfire season is now a month longer than it was just a decade ago. My hostess, a kind and compassionate retired nurse, (her name is Judith!) was on all means of communication to find out which direction the fire was taking and if it was contained. OK, I was sweating bricks! To describe the area as rural is an understatement, and there was nothing to interfere with the progress of flames that wanted to consume acres upon acres of very dry brush. I recalled the smell of burnt wood from my last journey to Sierra Festival, imagined the conflagration swallowing us, and wondered:
“What are we doing here?” “What is anyone doing here?”
California wildfire season burns triple amount of acreage from last yr CNBC 6/24/2017
California Braces For Severe Fire Season CBS 6/30/17
California Has Two Fire Seasons, and Climate Change Will Make Both Worse KCET 9/9/16
Judith assured me that fires climb uphill, and the planes we saw above were securing the area. Opening night did start, an hour late, as the fire trucks poured by the festival site and the skies were cleared of firefighting apparatus. I was still shaken, but the community had learned to take it in their stride and quickly returned to the scene described above. I understood why everyone stays.
I live in Marblehead MA. It is a beautiful historic town on the Atlantic Ocean. I read climate science and the writing is on the wall. My sweet little town is due for more than its share of misery.
Northeast warming more rapidly than most of US Boston Globe 8/17https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/01/12/northeast-will-experience-faster-warming-from-climate-change-new-studyfinds/nitce6eK8zqQN2LXZXgvwK/story.html
What this means is acidification of the ocean that so many rely on for work and play. Sea-level rise that will erode and flood our beaches, then our roads, and finally our homes. An intensification of storms, so that Sandy will look like a vacation. Shifts in species distribution, which among other things means that our tick population, vector carrying insects, is burgeoning and lyme disease is becoming as common as the cold. Finally, and this is difficult for us to wrap our heads around, decreased agricultural productivity and oxygen availability will debilitate us, and it will all happen where I sit, faster than in other places. “What are we doing here?” “What is anyone doing here?”
My husband and I discussed selling our home. Our home is not only the structure I have lived in for over 40 years and we have shared for 21. It is our neighbors, our friends, our Rotary Club, our singing group, our comrades of Sustainable Marblehead, who are trying to shift our culture from one of consumption to sustaining, our cranky grocery store manager, our loud teenagers, our memories. Then my husband asked the question: “Where would we go?”
My children and grandchildren, I will tell them, “survive.” They should move to upstate Michigan where there is a wealth of fresh water. However, I am old, and like our friends in Northern California, we will stay here, with our ship, and do what we can to keep it afloat.
*You can read more about Sustainable Marblehead, an organization that 5 of us started and now many have joined.