Those of us living in Southern California may be forgiven for a sense that the apocalypse is approaching faster even than some evangelicals would have us believe. The place is an inferno, with wild fires raging out of control from Malibu to the border with Mexico. Living here, you can't help but be aware of it.
(The above is not a minimalist abstract painting. It's a digital photo taken from the window of our car.) The smoke pollutes the air even in those areas, like our own, which have been spared the actual burn. You can feel the heaviness in the lungs, the burn in the nostrils. The sunset glows an ominous, but glorious red.
Should we beat our breasts? Should we do a Pat Robertson, blame the gays and lesbians and our other evil ways? Is God trying to tell us something? Well, maybe not... Brush fires are a part of the natural cycle, nature's way of clearing things out to allow for new growth, new life. If they are now so terrible, though, it's in part a result of human behavior: over the past century, we have made valiant attempts--often in the interest of "development"--to control nature's efforts. Our need for housing and transportation routes has defaced the natural topgraphy. We know, too, that our greenhouse gases have contributed significantly to the climate changes that have promoted drought in this part of the world, as in the southeast of the United States and elsewhere on the planet. This in turn has created ideal fuel for the fires, desert-dry brush and timber in huge quantities. Our drought has also depleted the wherewithal to fight the fires where they flare up. Our human obsession with control and exploitation has done much to bring these situations on.
And then... I can't help but see these local brush fires in the context of the global ones: wars everywhere, civil (though how can war be "civil," ever?) inter-national and territorial; famine and plague; disasters of the kind we seem to read about daily in the papers. We co-create these events with nature, as the California fires, or we invent them all by ourselves. The latest brush fire that I hear about is the one on the border between Turkey and Iraq, with Turkey now threatening to invade that benighted country from the north, to protect itself from Kurdish terrorists seeking to consolidate an independent Kurdish nation. The particular fire we Americans lit amongst the already many conflagration points in the Middle East is sending burning embers flying into the surrounding brush.
Here's the "burning" question: are we nearer to our annihilation as a species than we had ever imagined? Is the process of destruction already beyond all hope of control? Are we now fated to stand powerless in the face of hurricane force winds, like those California firefighters, and watch as the world burns? It's a frightening thought, but a frighteningly real one at this moment in our planet's history.