Publisher’s Letter: Wildfires, Blue Mind

By Lisa Bland, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief –

Dear readers,

It has been quite a summer. We’ve literally all been through a trial by fire—locally, provincially, and globally. Whether by fire, flood, or hurricane, there is no doubt our world is changing.

Paddling on Voyageur canoes in English Bay, Vancouver during the Pink Salmon Festival, August 2017. Photo: Lisa Bland

Paddling on Voyageur canoes in English Bay, Vancouver during the Pink Salmon Festival, August 2017. Photo: Lisa Bland

As we go to press, the class 5 hurricane Irma has just churned through the Caribbean leaving devastation in its wake and on to Florida, where storm surges and flooding forced the evacuation of thousands. Two weeks ago, hurricane Harvey, now considered the worst and most expensive natural disaster in US history, left an infrastructural nightmare due to flooding in Texas and the Huston area. It appears climate change is knocking on our doors, whether we care, believe, or are prepared.

The fall 2017 issue of TheGreenGazette is undoubtedly about wildfires, what played out this summer, and how we pick up the pieces and move on to a new normal. Across the Cariboo we experienced myriad responses and challenges to the stress of imminent evacuations, threat, or damages to homes and livelihoods. It was a surreal time.

For many days, the sun glowed red in the ghostly white sky, acrid smoke lingered in and out of doors, and the region was suspended in anxiety as smoke billowed on hillsides and fires scorched the forests and encroached into communities. Families and neighbours checked in with one another, pouring over fire data and social media sites for updates, and underwent a rushed process of gathering possessions. I packed and unpacked my car numerous times, boxes and gear spread out on the lawn as ash fell from the sky, sorting business papers, mementoes, cards, photos, and boxes I hadn’t looked in for years. Despite the anxiety about running out of time, I was surprised how easy it was to make split second decisions about stuff.

For those of us lucky enough to have been spared personal or property damage, the fires were a wake-up call about ideas of security and to the kind of world we are living in. This summer has shown us we can all be climate refugees in a second. As the predictability of our natural systems continues to break down, we may discover the places we’ve spent our lives investing in may not be permanent. Climate offers no favours to the wealthy or poor.

According to NASA, this year has brought the second hottest globally recorded temperatures, higher than those of 2016 and without the El Niño effect that brings warm ocean water to the surface, temporarily causing average global surface temperatures to rise. Overall, 2014, 2015, and 2016 each broke global surface temperature records set in 2010 and 2005, and MetOffice reported that 2015 and 2016, in analyses of global temperature anomalies, are the two warmest years on record.

On June 29 of this year, MeteoFrance reported the Iranian city of Ahvaz had reached the hottest modern recorded temperature at 54 degrees Celcius, matching Death Valley, California, on June 30, 2013, and Mitribah, Kuwait on July 21, 2016.

As the climate warms, the atmosphere holds more moisture, leading to more rainfall associated with storms, and as the sea surface temperatures increase, the intensity of hurricanes increases. Frequent and more severe heat waves also mean increased fire activity.

How can anyone prepare? It’s traumatic when things change abruptly, and emotionally no-one is ready to lose everything. But flowing with change, death, and letting go is a great teacher, as are the lessons of impermanence.

This summer, I met and talked with people on my street more than I had in an entire year, and felt a sense of community in reaching beyond the boundaries of acquaintance. In glimpsing a little of who each person was on the inside, I was strengthened by our common humanity. I visited with relatives I hadn’t spent much time with, and finally took time out from being on an endless treadmill. I was reminded that these precious moments being alive and sharing with others are supremely valuable.

The view of the red sun out my window in Williams Lake before our evacuation order. Photo: Lisa Bland

The view of the red sun out my window in Williams Lake before our evacuation order. Photo: Lisa Bland

After evacuating from the dry, blazing heat of the Cariboo, I was also lucky enough to journey to the river and the ocean, and it’s here where I glimpsed an inner resilience, renewal, and ability to flow with change. I also learned about the concept of blue mind.

This summer I had planned to participate in a 26-day trip from the headwaters to the mouth of the Fraser River with the Rivershed Society of BC’s Sustainable Living Leadership Program, but due to fires blocking access, a shortened trip by rafts and canoes was organized from Lillooet to the mouth of the Fraser River, coinciding with FraserFest.

Despite the thick haze blocking the sun and the view of the mountains, as well as a feeling of collective doom while BC burned, the river was a lifeline back to joy. I felt immersed in reality during eight days of sharing stories with people as we rafted down rapids and paddled canoes, sleeping along the banks, swimming and picking berries, being welcomed by First Nations in their communities, making new friends, meeting others advocating for the watershed, and sharing in the collective concern over threats facing the Fraser River including pollution and disturbingly low numbers of returning salmon.

One of my new friends on the journey told me about a book called, Blue Mind, The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do, by Wallace J. Nichols.

The book explains that our blue mind is a natural state enhanced by being on, in, and around water; we instinctively know it, but many have forgotten. Contrasting with our blue mind, says Nichols, are states of being created by modern lifestyles, habits, and choices including red mind (stressed out, anxious, high-strung, and underproductive) and gray mind (numb, lethargic, unmotivated, and dissatisfied).

Each time I swam the river this summer, I was struck by how much my thinking transformed from ruminating, disconnected judgment, and chatter, to calm, connected, and at peace. It was there on the river, I learned how to think in a way that flows with the imminent changes ahead.

Wishing everyone a happy fall, and a return to a new normal.

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