By Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz
When folks speak of summer in the Ozarks, they are generally referring to the hot, sultry month of August. Generally. This year, August started way back in April and we knew even then what was coming our way. Each day that passed without rain was torture and we prayed for even a scant drop of rain. When rain did fall, it was so scattered and isolated that your next door neighbor might get an inch and a half of rain while you got nothing but pipe dreams. The earth is cracked, the grass is brittle and trees are dying. All summer we have watched with muffled dread as the heat wave scorched its way across the landscape and wondered when the other shoe was going to fall.
And so it was that Monday morning we had a close encounter with the other shoe. Unbeknownst to us, a massive wildfire had been burning in the Mark Twain National Forest near Dora, Missouri, for several days before we first noticed the smell of smoke in the air Monday morning. The wind had just begun to pick up and suddenly our little valley was choked and ash was falling from the sky.
We spent all afternoon trying to find someone who could give us useful information. Finally, we made the right phone call to the right people – The Forest Service Headquarters in Ava. It was 3:30 in the afternoon. They told us that the fire began on Saturday and had been caused by dry lightening. To add to the excitement, the forest in that area was choked with downed trees from a tornado back in 2010 – now perfectly dry and ripe for the burning. At that time, the fire had consumed 300 acres. Two hours later, the Associated Press announced the fire had burned roughly 550 acres – almost double the earlier acreage. And the wind was blowing in our direction.
Despite the nearness of the fire and the increasingly large chunks of charred leaves that were falling all around us, we had nothing left to do but wait and have faith in those men and women who came from near and far to risk their lives to contain the fire on behalf of the citizens of Howell and Ozark Counties. Their jobs are to contain, control and extinguish the fire quickly and safely – for which I give them my deepest appreciation and respect.
And while they may have this particular fire under control, the conditions continue to be ripe for yet more of these large destructive and dangerous fires.
This year has been one like no other I have ever seen in my lifetime. Many of our older friends and neighbors are saying the same. And while we know that there have been times like these in the past, the depth and scope of this drought has left almost no one in the country, or the world, untouched. For it is not just here in my little corner of the woods where things are going awry.
Is this super-drought the end of the world? Is it the unfolding of the Revelations of the Bible or the fulfillment of the Mayan calendar, which ends in October of this year? Or is it that pesky global climate change-thing that no one really wants to take responsibility for or do anything about? Maybe it’s all of the above. Why not?
How many ways do we need to be told we’re screwing up the planet with our selfish desires? And when will we begin taking it seriously and do something about it? We’re cutting down forests at an alarming rate, we’re damming rivers and sucking them dry. We drill and dig massive holes into the heart of our planet and dump waste everywhere and the amount of trash produced in the world is beyond staggering.
I’m not really worried about the Earth or Nature – those things will be here for millions of years after we are gone. It is we humans who are in danger of losing everything, including ourselves, if we don’t at least try to make our world cleaner, greener and more sustainable.
The fires burning near us continue to drop ash in the yard, though less today than yesterday. Yet, I am compelled to consider this drought as something much more than a fire hazard or a poor year for gardening. I see it as a challenge for the entire human race – if you will, an Olympic effort to save ourselves from ourselves.
I have no doubt that the forest will regenerate quickly, refreshed and nourished by the fire, and we must do the same. We must try to change the things we can and we have no time left to waste. If our best efforts don’t work, at least we’ve done something to make the world a better place to live until we can’t anymore.
But, will we?
© 2012 Jill Henderson – reprints with permission.
Jill Henderson is an artist, author and the editor of Show Me Oz
She has written three books, including The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons: A Year in the Ozarks High Country. Available in print and eBook in our Bookstore.
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