Wildfires and Lightning

413E08D7-FA5D-4A41-814D-44CE96E3E9F2

My Courage

Last night, I dropped TimZ at the airport, set up my tent, and tried to sleep. It’s smoky and dim in Fairbanks right now, thanks to nearby wildfires (actually, most of Alaska’s road system is smoky. Tim and I drove the Richardson, the Glenn and the Parks this week and never escaped it). I had to treat and tuck away a swirling mass of worries before I could relax. I was worried about the fires, my health, my community, my planet, worried about money, worried about a young woman I love who is going to have a baby very soon, and worried about the state’s funding cuts to the university system and how they might alter my plans for the future (Bullshit. Infuriating, stupid wasteful bullshit). It’s a lot.

I did get to sleep though. I used to feel unsafe and stay awake, jumpy, burning through books and headlamp batteries when I was camping alone, but these days I don’t worry about dangerous animals or people. My dog is always beside me, a bastion of confidence, alert to anything moving in the trees. Too, I keep my bear spray close. I sleep well in the little nook I’ve found out there among the contours of the tree roots.

Last night though, I woke around one. At first, I wasn’t sure why. The sky was dim and hazy as it had been when I went to bed. The dog was relaxed. I flipped my pillow and shut my eyes. The next distant thunderclap solved the mystery. I rolled onto my back and looked up through the screen. Should I put up the fly? Is it really going to rain? I hope so. We need it.

Lightning flashed. One, two, three… I counted to twelve before I heard thunder. According to the basic forecast on my phone, the storm would pass by in an hour or so. I stayed put to wait it out, counting out the proximity of each lightning flash.

One… two… three… four… five… six… seven… eight… nine… boom

One… two… three… four… five… six… seven… boom

One… two… three… four… five… six… kaboom

At five seconds, I read the special advisories I had assumed were just more smoke warnings. One contained the phrases “dry lightning” and “half inch hail”. I tried to remember safety rules for storms but all I could think of was “don’t take shelter under a tree, stay in the car”. The black spruce trees whispered overhead and began to sway. It says it’s going to pass by north of here, it says it’s going to miss me. One… two… three… four… The next one will be farther... one… two… CRACK! I jumped up, rolled everything into my bedroll, and flung it out the door, fumbling shakily with the zipper. I started to throw the fly over the tent. One… BOOM! metal poles! I left it half-covered to sprint for the car. “Shoopie!” CRRRACK! The dog was surprisingly calm, trotting over the bog boards as usual even as the wind picked up and the trees whipped, my reservoir of courage. Halfway to the car, lightning and thunder came together: the sky went white and I felt the earth shake with the fury of it. I was sure the house next door had been struck. Running, with every hair on my body standing straight up, I slammed into the car, flung my armload of bedding and my magnificent dog into the back and sat stunned in the driver’s seat, trembling and unable to figure out how to turn on the headlights in this rental car I’d only driven the one time before.

I pulled out onto the road, heading for shelter at John’s – and called Geoff. By some miracle he answered – he’s the deepest sleeper I have ever known and never answers in the night – and kept me company as I made the short drive. The sky was an eerie, dense gray and when it opened up the rain came down like Arkansas, too heavy for Alaska. I tumbled out of the car when I got to John’s, still echoing with adrenaline, fumbling for my keys, and let myself in the back door amid the pandemonium. “What in the hell!?” John stood straight up in the loft when I banged the door open. “Oh, hi Daazhraii. Hi Keely. Hell of a storm!”

I flung my bedroll down. “It’s terrifying. I’m sorry for breaking in unannounced. Can I stay?”

“Of course. You break in anytime you want.”

It took a lot longer for me to settle down to sleep the second time last night.

I read a little about the fire situation this morning. It’s a bleak outlook with the weather so messed up and hot. Fuck climate change. I am so sad, today, for this beautiful, fragile, utterly screwed place that I call home.

B8720051-41C9-4FB8-80AB-2B5D09D92F2C

Alison and TimZ on Kesugi Ridge last week before the Talkeetna fires blew up. Miles of beetle-killed spruce spread out below them along both sides of the Chulitna.

 

Ice Lightning

Our house totally just got struck by lightning. There was a flash of light and a crack in the kitchen, and then a shock of thunder that rattled the glass in the windows.  That is not cool at all. The power’s still on and hopefully it will stay that way.

We went to town for a while to coldproof the plant babies in the greenhouse at Lee and to do laundry at our friends’ house (our washer froze solid a week or two ago, then busted). On the way home, we dodged downed limbs and listened to the rattle of sleet falling on the roof of the car. There was a message on the machine when we came in: no school tomorrow. I did a kitchen dance.

Today has been all about getting ready for the storm. I put on my mud shoes this morning and made sure the chickens had plenty of food and water, then turned on the lamp in the coop. I cut daffodils from the woods and brought them in so that we can enjoy them a little longer. After warming up for a while, Sean and I went out together into the nearly-freezing rain and covered a row of our garden with a sheet of plastic to help keep the fragile baby greens alive. Hopefully the wind won’t tear the cover right off like it has in the past.

IMG_1415

In the greenhouse at school, Sean and his students have planted flats of flowers and veggies for spring gardens. Last cold snap the soil froze solid, and, though the plants survived, we decided to take steps to prevent it from happening again. We used some sheets of styrofoam and constructed a sort of insulated box on the ground for the flats. We had boiled a quart of water and wrapped it in a jacket to keep the heat in, and this we tucked into the insulated box to help moderate the temperature.

Waiting on laundry at the Brohouse

I’m ready for spring, but I love storms, and I’m looking forward to having a day off to walk in the ice-chandeliers of our woods.