This spring and summer I got into the habit of morning bike rides at Key Central Forest. It was a way to set the tone for the day, start things off with a bit of fresh air and some movement.
We all know that a timber harvest has been in the cards for months now. I’ve kept an eye on the indicators: pink tape that hangs from huckleberry bushes and branches, boundary signs posted on tree trunks, tracks of big machinery.
I went for an early Saturday morning ride in late June, and there they were: enormous Douglas firs felled across the trail. Since it was Saturday there wasn’t any machinery or logging happening, so we explored a little further. A single-track trail where my legs were once scratched by huckleberry bushes and blackberry vines was now a dusty logging road, made to welcome enormous timber trucks.
Where usually I’m noting gradual shifts — how tall the ferns have gotten, what stage the foxgloves are in, how the wild honeysuckle twists and winds — this overnight change felt like a shock to my system.
I knew the logging was going to come, but that didn’t make the fallen trees any less alarming.
Our lives are defined by gradual and incremental shifts, one constant, ongoing cycle of change, but these extreme and drastic shifts are jarring because they remind us of how fragile and precarious things really are.
We age day by day, hour by hour, second by second. We live in a gradual movement that’s slow enough to prevent recognition until those sudden, immediate moments. We require time. It’s a human conceit, and one we created because we need it. From time comes perspective. But sometimes perspective comes by other means, from more unimagined, momentous, life-altering changes.
The past month has had all kinds of record-breaking temperatures and weather. July 4 marked the hottest global day on record. The day I finished writing this, Death Valley hit 127.7 degrees, just short of the world record for the hottest day in recorded history. Then there is the smoke that has covered large swatches of the U.S. and Canada. The deluge of water that flooded Vermont’s capital city was visible from space. Every day it feels like there is yet another drastic shift: a fire, a storm, a heatwave. These “once-in-a-lifetime” occurrences start to feel commonplace. In some places in the world, these things that shock us — air quality, for example — have been ongoing realities for some time.
I have a photo on my phone from Aug. 1, 2017, of a neon pink sun setting against a smoggy, grayish-looking sky. It’s the first photo that I remember taking of a sky like that. Now my phone is filled with them.
There were wildfires when I grew up but that summer was the first time that I remember numerous days of not really seeing the sky. Just haze and more haze. Now this feels normal, expected. We wonder not “Will there be fires this summer?” but instead, “How bad will it be?” When the neon pink sunset appeared that night my first thought was simply, “OK it’s here now.” “It” being the smoke that has come to define our west coast summers, the heavy reality of climate change suspended in the sky.
On the morning of July 4, the haze hung in the air. The fireworks went off regardless. All day long.
At sunset that night, an intensity of pinks and oranges was plastered across the sky. As if the clouds were on fire too. The fireworks continued despite the drought, despite the fire danger. I thought of the seals and the bats and the fish and the owls and all the other creatures that must wonder what was happening. The people who will never be able to hear an explosion without being thrown back into a world of trauma.
I was working on a large papercut this past month, an abstract of land and sea. Classic silhouettes and forms that I cut very often. When I started, I thought to myself, “Really, more of this?” because on some level it felt so similar to what I have made before. But cutting those rocks and headlands, feeling the blade slice through the paper to create the flow of water — that’s what I love to do, it’s what offers me a sense of calm and clarity.
Rebecca Solnit once wrote, “Every minute of every hour of every day you are making the world, just as you are making yourself, and you might as well do it with generosity and kindness and style.”
Those gradual, minute changes that we engage in regularly, whether it’s making art, meeting a friend for coffee, chatting with a neighbor, noticing a plant on a walk, getting an unexpected book at the library, working in our gardens, watching the sunset, are what we need when things around us are changing drastically every day. As they always do, as they always have.
We’re so often looking for something big. We want things to be remarkable. But in the smaller moments, we continue to make our lives, we continue to shift and to change, and these acts don’t just make life a little more beautiful, a little more bearable — they tether us to each other, to our home, even to an uncertain future.
Anna Brones is a writer and artist who lives in Vaughn.
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