from Fire Keeper’s Son
written by Linda Sue Park
illustrated by Julie Downing
Clarion Books, 2004
Linda Sue Park’s story is based on the Fire Keepers of ancient Korea. Sang He's father taught him how to build a fire safely. Each night, Fire Keepers lit fires in turn on the hillsides of Korea. Each hilltop was closer to the king’s palace than the one before. When the fire on the closest hilltop was visible to the king, he knew that all was well in the kingdom.
Smokey the Bear loomed over my childhood fire safety education. My family didn’t camp often, but when we did, we were mindful of the condition of our campsite. We were careful to leave it better than we found it. That’s what I learned in Girl Scouts. Mom was my troop leader. She showed us how to wrap bits of a candle in wax paper like pieces of salt-water taffy, and safely use them to start a campfire. We mostly used our fires to cook s’mores.
In our family room we had what Mom called a Franklin Stove. It was free-standing, a pot-bellied affair made of cast iron. Mom would make taffy-looking starters like in the old Girl Scout days.
Dad liked to bowl. Being the genial fellow that he was, mostly, he was able to acquire old bowling pins the alley didn’t need any more. They were paint-chipped, broken-necked, or sported some other type of damage. But, they made good log substitutes, and we had an unending supply. The fire was warm and comforting.
Now, we have a fire pit in our backyard. When the grandkids come over, we cook hotdogs and of course s’mores. Nothing smells like a wood fire. And the flames are a constant source of motion, influenced by the wind, but not dominated by it.
I have memories of good fire. My memory fires were all contained. They were all useful. They provided warmth and cooked food, mostly dessert. They helped me tap into something natural and primal.
I know people who have experienced bad fire, house fires that burned memories. The destruction was costly, in a literal way, but emotionally, too.
It feels like our whole country is going up in smoke. As of yesterday (9/14/2020), fires in the West have burnt an area equivalent to the size of the state of Connecticut. Here’s a map showing just the fires burning in California. https://www.fire.ca.gov/incidents/. Some of the active fires at the bottom of the page are slightly contained. As of last night (Monday), the Bullfrog and the Fork Fires are 7% contained. So far, eighty-seven large fires have burned more than 4.6 million acres in 10 states. https://www.nifc.gov/fireInfo/nfn.htm (National Interagency Fire Center) Most are only partly contained.
Hundreds of thousands of people are under evacuation orders in California, Oregon, Washington State, and Idaho while our country experiences the worst health crisis since 1918.
Prime farm land is burning. Besides lettuce, tree nuts, broccoli, celery, plums, spinach, and carrots, crops are grown in greenhouses. Lots of beef and dairy come from California, too.
Fueled by an extreme heat wave that followed a severe drought, climate change is exacerbating weather-related damage. While the western part of the United States has never experienced this many wildfires in any one year, the smoke is also especially harmful. Here’s a map from NOAA showing the smoke as an overlay of the geographical map: https://www.ospo.noaa.gov/Products/land/hms.html. Scroll down and click on maps.
According to Jennifer Balch, fire scientist and Earth Lab director at the University of Colorado, Bolder, the 20,000+ firefighters currently working cannot stop the amount of active fires burning right now. Fires need a warm climate, fuel, and ignition. We are changing all three conditions, and have built hundreds and thousands of homes in harm’s way.
From the redwood forests to the gulf stream waters, our country is in physical danger. Fires and hurricanes are whipping our land and water into a frenzy of destruction.
This is no time to feel hopeless, though. Lots of work still needs to be done by those of us who can. Stay aware of current politics, do what you can to spread truth and Truth, and cast your vote as early as you can.
-—stay curious! (and hopeful)