If a tree falls in the forest there are other trees listening.
― Peter Wohlleben, "The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries from a Secret World"
I live in Upstate New York surrounded by trees. Most days, even in the heat inversion summer months, the air is clear. Unless there is a wildfire. This week, there are nearly 1,000 US firefighters in Nova Scotia helping the Canadians fight a fire that has devoured more than 8.2 million acres and displaced 18,000 residents. Last summer, the Canadian firefighters arrived in my hood to help our brave firefighters contain and extinguish a fire on the Minnewaska Ridge. The pall of smoke from that fire lasted a long time and swept into Canada. This morning the sky in New Paltz was so thick with smoke and "particulate" matter, according to the DEC, that we are either shut inside with air filters running, or masked as we step into our cars to run errands or go to work. Who would have thought that our Covid mask supply would be useful beyond Covid, or that we'd have to reverse the masking protocol from inside out to outside in?
We live in a shared arboreal ecosystem, interrupted by careless, human post-indigenous, industrialized settlement. Satellite imagery tells the story: One World. Our borders are artificial and porous; nation states are only nation states in our political imaginations. And with climate change, migration across these borders will only intensify. Families escaping famine, flood, or the ravages of war. But writing this feels like old news, tired news, news that no one wants to hear as the summer begins and I sure didn't want to write about today. Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction, or the less apocalyptic Peter Wohlleben book quoted above, make disturbing and/or edifying reading, but it's not beach reading. No sooner do we assume we can rest, dear reader, than once again we must face a reality we didn't expect, or have failed to understand.
This morning at the gym, the young student at the front desk was philosophical about climate change, but also determined to participate in its amelioration. She even raised her arm and threw her fist in the air in a demonstrative gesture of defiance. When I asked what—concretely—she was planning or doing, her answer was simple: "Vote for the right people," she said. "And register my 20-something friends to vote. We cannot retreat from a world on fire."
I'll take that heartening news with me through the remainder of this hazy smoke-filled masked-up day, and keep the windows firmly closed. The forecasters are telling us that the air won't clear for at least another 24 hours.