I was shocked almost speechless last weekend upon reading in a prominent magazine that one of our three rainforests is on fire. My husband Frank and I spent idyllic hours in the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park, admiring the canopy through which the sun made dappled patterns on the forest floor, watching large elk graze and thrash around undisturbed in their natural habitat. The Hoh is one of only three temperate rainforests that we have and its peculiar primeval conditions have been nurtured for millennia by approximately 160 inches of rain falling annually on the Olympic peninsula.
So the idea of an uncontrolled fire in that verdant place inflamed my mind. How could it fail to wake up our population to the dangers that we are already experiencing, writ large by climate scientists and our current experience on the land and seas? Prolonged droughts lead to intensified fires; melting glaciers lead to less salty oceans, altered ocean currents and declining populations of mollusk that lack enough calcium in the water to build proper shells. The cascading effects are so numerous you have to deliberately close your eyes not to see them.
Though I found a lot of stories from credible sources describing the fire in the Hoh, none of my friends and colleagues on the East Coast had heard about a fire in Olympic when I asked them. I called the park and was told that the Paradise Fire has been raging in the park since May and is still not contained, and its prime effect on the Hoh Rainforest is heavy smoke.
According to one report, "The Paradise Fire is more than historic; its situation in a luxuriant rainforest presents a new set of challenges for fire crews and questions for scientists.
"It's something unique even for those of us who have been doing it for a long time," said (Kris) Eriksen, who's been fighting fires for more than 30 years. "When I heard we were coming, I said, 'How are we gonna do fire in a rainforest? How is it burning?"
Not being in close proximity to the park, I can only recall the deep satisfaction and peacefulness we experienced there and wonder how that might be different now. After our trip in 1995 we wrote, "At the end of a completely relaxing couple of days, our feelings had become so calm that we could truly appreciate the slogan for Olympic National Park, 'a place for the soul to expand and for the mind to be refreshed with the beauty of life -- a place of serendipitous discoveries.' "
The fact that rainforest areas in the park and on the peninsula are burning out of control should be a shocking wake up call for our country. Instead, what are we preoccupied with? Judging from TV and ever expanding "sources," our attention is focused on the gigantic red herring of a presidential campaign and "debate" that amplifies barbarism, racism and misogyny, without ever once touching on the immediate problem posed by climate change.
There is so much noise in our country right now, it's hard to focus on the positive and what's important. So I propose a massive re-set, a "time out" that allows us to get far away from the maddening crowds and reconnect with what is elemental and real. Our National Park System was set aside for just such a time as this, and is the place where we can find peace and quiet, touch the timeless earth and watch the eternal skies. Then we may be reminded of our ancestors, the world they experienced and the country they built, and reflect on what we are creating today. Then we might be struck again by the wisdom of the Natives, "We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children."
If today's reality is already so grim that I can no longer think of my beloved private personal national rainforest with an up swelling of love and peace in my heart, permeated with the memory of drinking in the beauty and the pure fresh air, what can we expect the next 10 years to bring? Without massive intervention from our government and a complete adjustment to our lifestyles, our ecosystems will continue to degrade under the weight of carbon pollution. It is not the earth we need to save, as the earth has been here forever and will continue to be here long after our species has exterminated itself. What we must do is redress the polluted conditions we've created so the environment can continue to support human life.
President Obama's Climate Action Plan is a step in the right direction, but the enormity of the problem requires all hands and hearts on deck in full participation.
On a morning walk with Frank recently I mentioned a brainstorm brought on from our visit to spectacular Denali National Park:
"Honey, how do you think humans might be different if we all had to cooperate to bring up the sun each morning?" I asked him.
"We'd all die," he said bluntly. "Do you really think we could get everyone to agree on doing something together every day?"
Hmmn... I don't know. But I can clearly see that our future depends upon what we do now, immediately. If a fire in/affecting our rainforest is not sufficient to goad us into action on climate change, what will? We need an unprecedented level of focus and co-operation to roll back the encroaching tide. If we don't make this a key issue for those seeking office in the upcoming elections, if we don't take concerted action to educate ourselves on the issues and make our desires known as you can do here on Land & Water Conservation Fund and here on climate - we'll just have to acknowledge that we gave up our rights and our children's future without lifting a finger to stop it.
Join me next week when I take members of congress on a tour of our national parks to jolt them back to reality. Meanwhile, take your own "time out" and visit one of our amazing national parks to reset your perspective.