Sunday, September 9, 2007

Primal memory of fire

A couple of weekends ago, I spent as much time worrying about the fires in Greece as I did enjoying the weather and the two days of reprieve. Everything about the verbal and photographic images haunted me: the encircling flames, the smoke plumes over the Mediterranean, the burnt cars, the woman and her four children who need not have died but couldn't have known what would happen, those who died trapped, and the mute agony of the wild animals and livestock unable to escape. Every image seemed more disturbing than the last as they built upon one another and as one thought led to another, but still I could not stop watching.

Perhaps I was reminded of an irrational fear that dogged me every summer of my childhood—that the woods behind my home would catch on fire and that the fire would rage out of control, consuming the trees, my home, and everything I had ever known. Every now and then I would become fixated on this idea. It terrified me. I would tell myself that fires in the woods were rare, and that the few there had been had been contained and put out quickly. I saw the smoke of one on a fine, sunny day; that one perhaps triggered my fear.

As I grew up and had more to focus on—schoolwork, friends, etc.—this particular fear receded into the background. It was still there, but it was dormant. The only time I was troubled by fire in the woods was in my dreams, but not very often.

How naive I was. I couldn't picture how a fire in the woods could spread very far and thought that that was the rational viewpoint, so my fear seemed irrational and childish. I am sure I must have seen footage of forest fires, and I understood Smokey the Bear's message and took it to heart. Somehow, never having been affected, I didn't truly understand the speed, the scope, and the consequences of forest fires. Perhaps it was my animal brain that did and that was wise to be afraid and to intrude on my more rational one.

Now I live more than 500 miles from those woods, which I loved and feared. I still do, and I still worry in my deepest consciousness about the potential for fire there—a fire which could no longer reach me.

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