Country Living | Confessions of a Farmer: After the Fires

By Terri Smith –

As I write this article, the smoke still hangs in the air, giving an eerie orange tinge to the day. We have lived for over a month now in this half-light. In the distance, the smoke haze has the look of an approaching snowstorm; we would even welcome snow, but everything is still in summer ripeness and the weird whiteness over the distant forest leaves us feeling unsettled and keeps us indoors more than we’d like. We were lucky here. Incredibly lucky, for one of the fires that began on the 7th of July was only about 6 km behind our house and was reported to have reached 1,500 hectares.

It just looks like a lovely sunset, but it isn't.  Plumes of smoke rising above our house from the Green Mountain fire just 6 km away. Photo: Terri Smith

It just looks like a lovely sunset, but it isn’t.  Plumes of smoke rising above our house from the Green Mountain fire just 6 km away. Photo: Terri Smith

Something that gave me pause and which I found heartening was that when we packed up the van in case we had to leave, we realized how little was truly important. Besides Mark and my animals, my favourite thing is my garden and I couldn’t take that. I began mulching everywhere I could and watering heavily every few days just in case, and every day I was grateful for the fresh vegetables and hoped we could stay.

It was nature who saved us in the end, really. The forest between us and the top of Green Mountain where the lightening first struck is still a mixed forest. Green deciduous trees don’t burn nearly as well as the vast hectares of pine monoculture that much of our forest has become.

We have mismanaged our forests for far too long, and now we are paying the price. Much has been written on the subject already, and I hope our practices will change faster, because this isn’t the end of summers like this; it may only be the beginning. The problems that led to this summer are myriad; the problems that arose during this fire season are as well. I’m not going to go into them here. One of my favourite articles that appeared on social media talks about changing the one-size-fits-all approach to fire response and I think this is a topic that needs serious consideration. It can be found at: https://thetyee.ca/News/2017/07/20/Wildfires-Should-BC-Help-Homeowners/ Another important step individuals can take is to put pressure on government to stop the spraying of deciduous trees when blocks are replanted. Diversity in our forests is badly needed. Check out: https://www.change.org/o/stop_the_spray_bc to sign the petition.

I hope that we will not forget this summer as we move into fall and winter. I hope we can work on taking good care of ourselves and each other so that in times of stress we can act with compassion and not with bitterness and anger. I have seen much of both this summer. Remember to eat well, to drink enough water, to get exercise. Remember to have fun and to get enough sleep. This may seem unrelated to the fires, but if each of us works on ourselves and our own well-being, we are more likely to be compassionate and understanding of others, and this is important in times of high stress.

In the garden, care for your soil. If you have to evacuate, good soil will hold water longer than poor soil. You can begin right now to help your garden next year. Cut down long grass around your house and yard and start a compost pile in a shady location. Rake leaves and add them to the pile under heavier compost items like a layer of soil or all of the dead plants you have harvested out. Preparing the garden for spring by pulling out the dead plants and then mulching and/or composting helps to ease into the next year’s season, and also cleans up what could otherwise possibly become dry tinder next season. You may want to consider automatic timers for watering. There are many types of timers available, even battery-operated ones for if the power goes out.

This summer has been overwhelming. The fires have brought up a plethora of emotions for most of us, and even those who are not directly affected are feeling it. On social media tensions run high and while it feels like there are too many examples of people snapping at each other quicker than usual, there is also an incredible outpouring of love and compassion.

The following is one of my journal entries from July 14, a week after the fires began:

An important thing we are learning right now is that our systems are failing us, and we are still okay. Not only okay, but able to take care of ourselves and each other best with a spirit of co-operation rather than competition. What we are seeing is the failure of capitalism. This is what happens when corporations put profits before people and place. We didn’t take care of the land so the land will not be able to take care of us. But when our systems failed what took care of us was us. When it came to it, we all realized what was truly important. And when we all had to look around and take stock we realized how little of what we thought was important really mattered. We also realized that when we had nothing to fall back on we still had each other. Communities can take care of each other. Corporations cannot.

I felt hope in that first week that this would be a wake-up call, and I long for this hope to not be in vain. The trouble is that even imminent danger becomes tedious if it goes on for too long. People are not wired to deal with long-term threats. We have great fight-or-flight instincts, but not a lot of foresight as a species.

They say that only when pushed to the brink does humanity evolve. Well, this is the brink. We must wake up to what we have been doing to the planet. We can still create meaningful work for people as we attempt to fix what we have broken. I hope we are learning, and I hope we learn fast enough. We must adapt. We must stop pretending that we can put the economy first above everything. Profit cannot come before the health of the planet, its plants, its animals, and its silly yet wonderful humans. If it continues to do so we will die. So let’s adapt instead.

Terri Smith is a non-certified organic vegetable farmer in the Cariboo. She is passionate about writing, art, goats, and feeding good food to good people. She believes in following your heart, living your dreams, and taking care of the planet.

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