Monday, February 11, 2013

The Fires that Built a Generation of Humanity

January 31, 2013

Every Saturday morning my siblings and I went exploring: seeking new wonders, tigers, and spending precious time with our workaholic father. One drive transformed from wonder into horror.

The adventuring began as it always did, four seatbelts clicking in a bright yellow company jeep. Hard oil pavement morphed into clay packed trails as the vehicle moved along hair-pin curves, rising and falling with hilly terrain. Trees well over a hundred feet tall closed in around the small automobile. A troop of Pigtail Macaques blocked the road, scurrying when Dad laid on the horn.

Miles away, dark clouds hung above and below the canopy looking like heavy rain. Dad, a quiet man by nature, became almost silent. He drove closer to the thick dark clouds. As we drove nearer the cold sterility of the air-conditioned jeep could not hide the smell of decomposing plant matter, smoldering wood, burning crude oil, and overturned clay. My nose burned and my eyes itched. Soot began to cake the windows.

Cresting a ridge my heart sank and tears filled my eyes. The forest I knew and loved was ablaze. I can't remember if it was slash and burn agriculture or if it was being cleared to put in a new well and pipeline. All I can remember was watching a valley, once filled with life, burning down to the clay below.

My father, an employee of a large oil company, exhibited great courage by taking his children outside of the walls of the compound to see the wonder and tragedy of life. I was in the first grade and my teacher was a full-on hippy. In the weeks prior to the burning my class spoke of global warming, earth-day and humanity's responsibility to curate and preserve the planet. It was an odd lesson to be learned in a private school funded by one of the world's largest oil companies. The audacity of any teacher, hired by an oil company, with the balls to teach children to think, let alone to teach their pupils about the scary wide world, who knew they would create a "monster" they never imagined.

On April 20, 2010, twenty-three days after my son's birth and on my husband's birthday, Deep Water Horizon exploded. Sitting in the Neonatal ICU in Houston, Texas, my memory played tricks on me. I could smell burning trees, burning crude, and hear birds crying for sanctuary. Like so many on the gulf coast, I was angry.

I could remember how sad and angry I was when the forest burned. My imagination ran wild as pictures of crude-encrusted corals filled my mind. Words from Soylent Green washed through my head as images of burning rain-forests danced in my vision. Mother Earth screamed in my head.

Humanity is but a single species in a vast universe. Each action while small had repercussions. My father's weekend excursions into the jungle gave me a view of serenity and destruction that I would never trade. My teacher gave me words to describe the world.

We are but humble gardeners working in concert with a sentient organism called Earth.

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