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Certain Revelations

Kaniksu Fire (Tower Fire) Complex, Priest Lake, Northern Idaho

By Mary Oliver

I have decided to find myself a home
in the mountains, somewhere high up
where one learns to live peacefully
in the cold and the silence. It’s said that
in such a place certain revelations may
be discovered. That what the spirit
reaches for may be eventually felt, if not
exactly understood. Slowly, no doubt. I’m
not talking about a vacations.

Of course at the same time I mean to
stay exactly where I am.

Are you following me?

It is an interesting twist, as my son says, to deliberately head out on vacation to a cabin situated in a Fire Evacuation Level 1 Zone. But, the cabin was waiting, the lake technically open, if socked in with fire smoke, and precious vacation time logged in the books (no mean feat for my husband who is in the medical profession – his specialty group books their vacations a year out). So yes - one eye on the sky, the other on the news - we headed north. Toward the fire zones, cautiously passing National Forest Service rangers posted at the many dirt access roads into the mountains. Headed up a highway that is both the only egress in to Priest Lake, and out.

The consequences of the alert level fire designation are many. No beach fires, cabin fires, charcoal grills, or outdoor equipment that might spark. The sandy beaches are quiet, dark, somnolent. The marinas under blankets of smoke that thicken and shift on the lake winds. The lake shore is mostly empty: fulltime residents hunkering in to keep cabins and trees watered down and prepare for the early end of the lake season. Tourists with more flexibility have canceled their plans. Residents of the two small towns that flank the upper and lower end of the long lake watch the weather and fire reports. Those in the northern meadows, already on a higher Evacuation Level 2, have loaded flatbed trailers with belongings and wait. Beyond their farms and ranches glow the lightning-sparked fires that have burned all summer, creeping down the shoulders of the mountains, heavy smoke rolling over the ridges, coating the grass and forests in dusty ash, sending the elderly and the infirm in search of better air.

A secondary impact from smoke is quiet. An extraordinary thick silence. The absence of boat traffic, the muffled sounds, forests empty of bird song and chipmunks. The hearth – a beach pit fire or cabin fireplace – is a gathering place, a melody of voices in the night. There are none. We’ve gone hiking each day, climbing to vantage points where we might survey the lengths of the lake and trace patterns of fire smoke that sink off the mountains and float across the water. Wildlife is on the move, the forests still. We’ve encountered one pair of great hunting owls in the pines nearest the shore, and a crow-sized northern red-crested woodpecker, determinedly drilling a tree. The wilderness is evacuating.

I am looking straight off the deck of the cabin at this moment and cannot see the shoreline across the bay. The pine and stone islands recede, shadows in The Gray that does not drift but thickens. There were no stars last night.

I have decided to find myself a home
in the mountains, somewhere high up
where one learns to live peacefully
in the cold and the silence.

I worry for the wilderness, the animal life, the safety of the rangers on duty and the firefighters here and at other fires near these Tower Complex fires. It would be a blessing if this time, fate was on our side. Our revelations are so simple this year – preservation.

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