Winter’s icy clasp releases its bony fingers from our mountains and valleys. In yesteryear, temperatures plunged 20 degrees below zero, snows mounded waist-high, freezing rain clung to branches and boughs alike — nature’s pruning.
We are not so cold as we used to be.
Now, more like, midsummer and early autumn bring merciless heat, strangling the life out of growing things. Crispy leaf-litter covers the earth, waiting to turn to fire and dust.
Visions of wildfires in the Southern Hemisphere plague my mind’s eye. They were here, in these mountains, blazing a few years ago. Thick smoke hung everywhere I traveled.
Perhaps it is paired with my childhood fear of overnight house fires. I see my child-self curled in bed under a fuzzy blanket with my bear in my arm. Again and again, I visualized my way out of my room on the second story with a basement/garage below me and windows that would not open. Had fire come, especially in summer’s heat when my father had installed the window-unit air conditioner, they would have had to rescue me … or I would have had to break the glass and clear the jagged pieces with a pillow. Could I have knotted my sheets together quickly enough, as the firefighter who came to our school taught us? How would we escape it in these hills?
Rolling onto my side, then and now, I pray for rain to douse the fire, breeze to carry away the noxious smoke. I pray for water to soak the leaves and help them be claimed by spores and broken down into earth that will renew the trees. I pray for rain.
Even still, in parts of this land, catastrophic flooding has drowned our neighbors. In the heartland, farmers were unable to meet the growing season’s timelines. Some, overwhelmed by the burdens and losses, died by suicide, but it was death by flooding first. Eastern Kentucky has met with terrible flooding this winter — sinkholes, landslides, rockslides and waters that moved a train. But our nation and world know very little of such. Flooding affected our area not too long ago. The stories go untold outside the immediate area affected.
Recent headlines have garnered resources to find a lost child. For that I am so thankful. I am thankful for generosity toward other humans. I think of churches destroyed by fire and how so often there is a clamor to rebuild after devastation.
But what of generosity to the land and its inhabitants? Surely the earth and its people also possess holiness, a significance beyond mere chaff. Where is the help for the farmers and the hardscrabble of the mountains?
It would be easy to say, “Leave, and move elsewhere.” But for some of us, our identity is one with land. We must stay.
And what of waters when they begin to rise against the coasts of the nation? Or fires as they rage? Where will the people on the coasts seek refuge when the inlands are not inhabited?