I have four kids, between 18 and 26, and I worry about the kind of world they’re going to have. For the first time it’s made me almost wish I hadn’t brought kids into the world. I go back and forth between thinking there’s a reason to be hopeful and thinking there’s reasons to not be optimistic. I keep telling them, Your generation has to figure this out, because mine really messed it up.
Barely two weeks later, the fires broke out at Fort McMurray. J’s fingertip ticced over the news liveblog and the evacuation/relocation group, the human pleas for and offers of aid. Marie in Olds wrote, “Don’t forget that there are lots of people willing to open their homes in Central and Southern Alberta. I know it’s a long way, but if you can get here, you can stay for free.” J was in Rhode Island; no one could get to her. She donated money to the Red Cross. She sat still, refreshing the images of flames until her eyes turned red, thinking: We already have this kind of world. It’s now, it’s here, it’s burning. She tried not to think about the trees becoming carbon gases and ash, the reserves of tar and oil igniting underground–was that even possible?–and loosing their heat into the air; she forced her mind back to it.
J called, texted, emailed the children who didn’t still live with her and said, “Come home.” They came, and gathered close around her. “It’s scary,” they agreed, though they were calm. She almost wished they’d show distress so she could switch to comfort mode, but they were no longer her babies and she had no comfort to give. They were just here, in this world, and so was she.
When the fires finally died down, weeks later, Fort McMurray’s former residents slowly made their way back–many by foot, some in convoys–to bid farewell to their former home, a plain of ash, plastic siding melted into lava flows, soil calcined to a depth of feed in places, metal still pinging and cooling. Tree and house skeletons crumbled a little at a time. There was no reason for birds to be there. Those who were able made a procession around the blackened places, praying or singing, shouting or sobbing, according to their natures and their traditions. They marked their faces with the ash. It took days. When they left, each person took a piece of debris away with them.
(Meanwhile, people throughout Alberta and neighboring provinces were working to find housing, adapt infrastructure, continue schooling, provide medical and spiritual care for all the people who had been displaced, and find them new work to do in order to be useful and feel purpose, and helping them settle near each other whenever possible. J followed this process from afar, to the best of her ability. She wanted to know what to do when it was her turn. Her kids had to remind her to step outside, to walk on the beach, to eat with them. There are many ways to keep a vigil.)
Exploitation of the Athabasca oil sands was over. As a home for living creatures, the place was in abeyance; the land was a graveyard. Later on, much later, after J and her children were dead, it became a field, and plants and animals–different kinds, that had weathered the world’s other changes–began to live there, and even do well on the rich black soil.