A Morning Walk

This morning’s wind is clear and cool in the aftermath of the heat dome. As I walk across the scorched grass and over the smoothed rock, a small stunted grove of trees struggles up out of the yellowed grass above the weathered driftwood. This patch of gnarled branches and deep green leaves anchors my senses, washing away for a moment, thoughts about what I had been reading before setting out, what various scientists had discovered and published in disconnected pockets of news. The relief the wind brings settled my mind, but deep down, I am waiting. I remember the yellow skies of previous summers and fine particulates permeating everything, including my lungs, where they are still embedded. There was no escape and no relief. 

Moving away from the grove, I pass parked cars pointed toward the strait. Through one window, a person upright in their seat. Head tilted back at an uncomfortable angle, eyes hidden behind sunglasses and mouth ajar in a deep sleep. Others are looking out, sipping on coffee, looking toward Puget Sound and the cloud bank forming over Haro strait, while others read the morning news on their iPhones.

Again my thoughts turn to what I had read, a “positive feedback loop,” ironically a very negative thing. In other words, a climate change event that continues to accelerate, using its negative energy to increase in severity.

Walking up onto the rock outcrop, a lone individual sits frozen, only his thin blonde hair moving in the wind. I wonder what is passing through his mind? Is he contemplating the tipping point that can be cobble together from the disparate pieces of scientific news? Is this what was being studied on the iPhones in the parked cars? Or was it a desperate event in his life that left him to sit alone on this hard bench in the morning winds?  

I look out onto the strait myself watching the waves, and in that direction, the town of Lytton’s temperature rose to 50C for three days straight, within five degrees of the world record set in Furnace Creek Death Valley last year. A fire erupted so quickly that it became difficult to find a way to put it out. I see nothing but the blue sky and summer haze on the water in the distance, no sign of the smoke from this fire. The article I read said at 30C, if water had been dropped from a helicopter to put those flames out, it would have created a downdraft that would have accelerated the fire, instead of putting it out, like pouring gasoline on a fire. It went on, fire retardant the next line of defence only works when the fire is smaller than a football field. Once it is more extensive, there is no way to extinguish it. A climate change mega-fire is beyond our control.

Walking into the narrow path under the low green canopy arching over me, I recalled in 2017, a mega-fire burned 75 percent of Waterton Park in eight hours, leaving behind hills so bare they closed the national park fearing landslides from the exposed slopes. 

I look out over the strait again as I emerge from the path, studying the clouds looking for signs of approaching smoke. Reminded that the Lytton fire also induced thunderstorms that causing 12,000 lightning strikes over 24 hours and starting 70 new forest fires. Smoke from the mega-fire accelerated with such force that it shot right past the lower atmosphere into the stratosphere, where it should not be. It was the trigger for more lightning firestorms—an altitude reserved for massive volcanic eruptions.

I turn again to walk along the shoreline across the tinder-dry yellow grass to see if the leaves on these trees have curled and died like the Arbutus grove we saw last night in its death throngs. 

If these fires become large enough, the clouds blot out the sun, nuclear winter sets in arresting photosynthesis, with widespread impacts on plant and animal life. At some point, there is the real possibility of global agricultural losses. 

Isn’t this one of the tipping points predicted for the next decade? It is upon us now, making the scientific models wrong about how fast mother nature will extinguish us as we have failed to act. Mike Flannagan and Charlie Van Wagner predict a 50 percent increase in fire severity and a doubling of CO2 emissions as a result. In other words, we need to panic!

Then there is our “sudden death rate” in BC during the heat dome, which overran our hospital’s capacity, the massive bird die-off in Washington state, and the billion seashore animals that cooked to death on our shores. 

Like those in the cars, I turn to my iPhone, a friend is writing, “why are our leaders not listening, not acting, not declaring an emergency, as we did for the pandemic? I begin to respond perhaps this is something our elders might help us with but pause, reminded that we are both now elders…