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Friday, November 16, 2018


by Buff Whitman-Bradley

Cars destroyed by the Camp Fire sit in the lot at a used car dealership on November 9, 2018 in Paradise, California. CREDIT: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images via CBS News

Driving north on Highway 101 from Marin to Sonoma County, I notice a small flock of starlings rise above a fallow field into the dystopic, ashy, leaden sky to perform their liquid choreography come hell or high water or filthy air. To the north and east of us, a vast, murderous fire rages in Butte County, wiping out entire communities and killing many trying to escape the flames. The smoke from the inferno has plastered our sky for several days now, air quality is abysmal, and we (old people) and young children in particular are warned to stay indoors until the pollutants dissipate. We’re headed to pick up our little granddaughters and spend a few hours with them in the air-conditioned-and-filtered library. Like all of us who pass a significant portion of each day in the out of doors, the little ones are feeling cooped up and antsy. As I watch the astonishing flow of shapes the starlings create high above the field, swooping and soaring and wheeling in the angry air, I imagine their tiny lungs being assailed and assaulted and overwhelmed by the noxious particulates through which they are moving. Will they die premature, unnatural deaths because of toxins inhaled while performing their ancient ballet? Probably. As will many others of all species, including our own. Whether or not any particular fire is merely accidental in origin, the conditions that support and sustain the increasing number of disastrous wild fires we have endured over the past few years are no accident, but the result of the warming of our climate due to the maniacal consumption of carbon. Droughts turn trees and other plant material to kindling; increasingly high winds spread conflagrations with deadly alacrity. Scientists have told us all this for years, have warned us that such out-of-control blazes will occur with increasing frequency and intensity. So what malfunction in the mental circuitry of the gluttonous petroleum mongers causes them to lose sight of their/our common humanity, of their/our interconnectedness with all life? Why continue driving this biocidal juggernaut? What the fuck is going on?

Buff Whitman-Bradley's poems have appeared in many print and online journals. His most recent books are To Get Our Bearings in this Wheeling World and Cancer Cantata. With his wife Cynthia, he produced the award-winning documentary film Outside In and, with the MIRC film collective, made the film Por Que Venimos. His interviews with soldiers refusing to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan were made into the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. He lives in northern California.