The plume rises before us. White and billowy. We watch from across the valley. Then walk back to our camp by the lake. The beautiful alpine lake snug against steep cliffs – where remnants of snow cling to rocks on the far side. It is the place we picked so as to monitor the fire’s behavior. To keep ourselves safe.
At night, an orange glow fills the sky. We, in our tent, sleep. Dream even. I dream of fire flaming its way through the forest – devouring trees, shrubs and bushes. The dry, pale grasses. Animals. Us.
World on fire.
Maybe the world has always been on fire. One way or another. Smoldering. Or hot and fast. Crushing its way across valleys and rivers and ridges and towns, filling the air with the rubbish of its burning. Blazing. Flaming. Consuming.
Maybe it just hasn’t been so close and easy to see. Even so, we underestimate the implications.
We spend the day taking pictures and walking through flower filled meadows, watch from a distance, as the plume grows ever bigger, worry only when the wind changes direction. When the plume seems to bend our way.
We make plans anyways to climb the peak above us. The next morning. Then settle down into our sleeping bags, listen to the soft sounds of night. Watch stars appear. This smoke, this fire, we say, will stay away from us. It burns another direction.
But in the morning, thick smoke fills our nostrils. When we crawl from the tent we see ash covers the heather, covers the surface of the lake. Bits of grey nothingness fall from the sky.
Oh, we say to each other, as if we should be surprised.
The fire is here.