For days we’ve watched the scenes from the devastating and expanding California wildfires. Apocalyptic images. (describing or prophesying the complete destruction of the world.)
Monday morning dawned smoky across much of California, and it dawned scary – over the weekend winds as high as a hundred miles per hour had whipped wildfires through forests and subdivisions.Has the climate crisis made California too dangerous to live in? by Bill McKibben, The Guardian, Oct. 29, 2019
It wasn’t the first time this had happened – indeed, it’s happened every year for the last three – and this time the flames were licking against communities destroyed in 2017. Reporters spoke to one family that had moved into their rebuilt home on Saturday, only to be immediately evacuated again.
The spectacle was cinematic: at one point, fire jumped the Carquinez Strait at the end of San Francisco Bay, shrouding the bridge on Interstate 80 in smoke and flame.
Three years in a row feels like – well, it starts to feel like the new, and impossible, normal. That’s what the local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, implied this morning when, in the middle of its account of the inferno, it included the following sentence: the fires had “intensified fears that parts of California had become almost too dangerous to inhabit”. Read that again: the local paper is on record stating that part of the state is now so risky that its citizens might have to leave.
What has hit me the hardest is the description above, “The spectacle was cinematic: at one point, fire jumped the Carquinez Strait at the end of San Francisco Bay, shrouding the bridge on Interstate 80 in smoke and flame.” I’ve written many times of how the vision of Long’s Peak in my beloved Rocky Mountains enshrouded by smog from auto exhaust shook me to my core. And set me on a lifelong journey to try to warn others of the existential threat we would face, now are facing, from greenhouse gas emissions.
When I recently came across the term sensemaking, this refusal to give up cars began to make sense to me.
sensemaking–the action or process of making sense of or giving meaning to something, especially new developments and experiences.
…there remains the most existential risk of them all: our diminishing capacity for collective sensemaking. Sensemaking is the ability to generate an understanding of world around us so that we may decide how to respond effectively to it. When this breaks down within the individual, it creates an ineffective human at best and a dangerous one at worst. At the collective level, a loss of sensemaking erodes shared cultural and value structures and renders us incapable of generating the collective wisdom necessary to solve complex societal problems like those described above. When that happens the centre cannot hold.Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, originally published by Medium
June 18, 2019
How could we convince lawmakers to pass laws to protect wilderness? Lopez argued that wilderness activists will never achieve the success they seek until they can go before a panel of legislators and testify that a certain river or butterfly or mountain or tree must be saved, not because of its economic importance, not because it has recreational or historical or scientific value, but because it is so beautiful.Reid, Robert Leonard. Because It Is So Beautiful: Unraveling the Mystique of the American West . Counterpoint. Kindle Edition.
His words struck a chord in me. I left the room a changed person, one who suddenly knew exactly what he wanted to do and how to do it. I had known that love is a powerful weapon, but until that moment I had not understood how to use it. What I learned on that long-ago evening, and what I have counted on ever since, is that to save a wilderness, or to be a writer or a cab driver or a homemaker—to live one’s life—one must reach deep into one’s heart and find what is there, then speak it plainly and without shame.
Everywhere people ask, “what can we do?”Arkan Lushwala
The question, what can we do, is the second question.
The first question is “what can we be?”
Because what you can do is a consequence of who you are.
Once you know what you can be, you know what you can do.
When Robert Reid wrote (above), “I left the room a changed person, one who suddenly knew exactly what he wanted to do and how to do it”, that was what Arkan Lushwala was saying, “what you can do is a consequence of who you are. Once you know what you can be, you know what you can do.”
This means it is important to strive to help people generate an understanding of the world they don’t currently have. That process might involve new experiences, like camping in the mountains. Might involve exposure to all kinds of art, music, prayer, worship and story telling. Sensemaking is the way we can begin to find the way through the dramatic changes coming at us.
ALL THAT WE ARE IS STORY. From the moment we are born to the time we continue on our spirit journey, we are involved in the creation of the story of our time here. It is what we arrive with. It is all we leave behind. We are not the things we accumulate. We are not the things we deem important. We are story. All of us. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside, we see each other, we recognize our kinship — we change the world one story at a timeRichard Wagamese (October 14, 1955-March 10, 2017)
Ojibwe from Wabeseemoong Independent Nations, Canada
Jeff, I just forwarded this whole post to my state senator, Rob Hogg. It’s great! Kathy