Meg Nicks is an artist living in the Canadian Rockies. I know her through Art Loves Science–now called Biophilium. We share a profound relationship to wild fires because of the similarities in our environments.
I’ve enjoyed her work for several years, and it seems to have acquired even more depth and feeling.
Title: Turbulent Dissolution
Lost Creek Fire
Red Moons: Shaman’s Jacket from a Season of Fire and Ash
I love this piece–not only about fire but a memorial to a deceased friend.
I’ve posted this in “Climate Change Haiku.” If the work inspires any poetry, do send it to the blog–firstname.lastname@example.org
In the heat of summer, retiree Nancy loads the mounted deer heads into her Hyundai SUV. She evacuates with caribou antlers piled on top of a few suitcases. The antelope head is her prized possession. It stares at her with its glass eyes in the suburban neighborhood with winding streets and split-level homes as she pulls out onto the interstate. This time the fire wins, the winds blow close enough to drench her hoe in smoke, and this time she knows the fear of pending death. She feels the weight of the loaded rifle in her hands. Her trophy mounts bring her closer to nature, closer to control. When her husband died, this was all she had left of their times on the range together. National Guard soldiers help police the roadblocks to lead her, along with 30,000 other residents, out of the city. She flocks to safety, doing what she is told. Suddenly, the antelope head leaps through the window of Nancy’s SUV. It races up the mountainside and is consumed by flames. It will not be trapped or mounted any longer. The stuffed deer heads follow, slide right through the SUV glass! Live deer watch them from the meadow that is still safe, watch the antelope head and deer heads, followed by the caribou antlers, as they all leap and roll themselves into the forest fire. Nancy doesn’t notice that her stuffed animal heads are missing. She won’t notice anything until she stops for the night and realizes they are gone, leaving her with the empty wooden mounts piled on top of her suitcases. She will blame it on vandalism. She knows that’s impossible since she never left her vehicle. She chooses the easy answer, the one she wants to believe, that the deer in the meadow watching from across the freeway are there for her viewing pleasure. They stare at her in the smoky night.
First you burned, and then everything else went up in flames. I unhooked you from the respirator, and then you died. Do you remember that evening when we caught the bluefish in Menemsha Bay? We were ill-prepared, had neither a bucket nor a knife. We didn’t expect to catch anything, but a large vicious bluefish took the hook. We pulled it gasping to the sand, and had no way to kill it as its teeth went for our bare feet. You took a large rock and brained it. At that exact moment the moon rose full and orange over the eastern shore of the island, behind us. We put our hands in gassho and bowed to the fish. Took it home, cooked, and ate it. Only I remember, as both you and the fish are dead. You were cremated in your gray under kimono, along with your lineage papers, certifying that you were an ordained Buddhist priest.
I’m in an artist’s residency in the southern Rockies, collaborating with my daughter Isabel.
Where am I really? The days of being a Romantic poet in a bucolic setting seem to be over (probably a hundred years ago). There is rural poverty and oppression in Hardy’s novels, but still, the city is worse. And I’m in an eco-system beleaguered by global warming and drought.
This mountain burned twenty years ago. It’s burning again, the scrub oak that sprang up. I’m pretty afraid of wildfires because I have only one fully working lung and I try to avoid the smoke. Yet the fire is contained, now smoldering. On National Forest land the fire can’t be fought with chemicals in the same way it is one private land. A helicopter has dumped water. I feel a huge love and gratitude for the four guys up there working to contain the fire.
And yet I’ve read enough Gary Snyder to know that western forests need to burn to be healthy. This forest fire is a hundred percent not about me. Yet it impacts me. In this it is pretty much like every other problem I’m facing right now—an ill friend, a demented frail family member, world events.
I sit in an old comfy arm chair on the front porch. I should sweep, but housekeeping is never my strong suit. I myself am full of contradiction. I want to: write, work in the print studio, run off to Questa to see if there are ice cream pops in the general store.
Isabel has been teaching me a lot. She gave me lessons on her camera. Taught me to make a monoprint. Yet sometimes I want to quibble with her, even boss her around. Or watch Mad Max with her.
It’s too easy for me to say—just go with the flow, to pick peace and grooviness over confrontation with this world. It’s too easy to say—well, reality is shit, how can I be so happy here in this gorgeous setting drinking my coffee when people are dying in the street the world over.
I’m quite convinced there is a Middle Way not just because I’ve heard its rumors but because I see it moment by moment before me, whether or not it leads me to Questa.
Pyromaniac weather. Forest fire moon. Mountains obscured by mist-like smoke. House shut tights. Clear by late morning–the plume shifts as it moves west from Arizona. The name of the forest fire is Wallow–which at first I took to be a verb. Ponderosa ash falls on the windshield. Setting sun like a blood orange suddenly rolling off a table.
We still have ants in the bedroom–everywhere, including the bed–despite my best efforts to (organically) exterminate them. Somehow it seems too much, both smoke and ants, but I know from long experience that God’s computer isn’t keeping track of me that way.