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Ann Manheimer: Smoldering

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After a close call, Ann Manheimer had these thoughts about the future of our world.

The hungry flames began as sparks, like a scatter of stars, then raced down the power pole to freedom and, child-like, leapt up the hill, through wild grass and fresh air.

It was an odd day for a fire in our East Bay neighborhood. Fog returned, keeping temperatures cool, but winds had whipped to 50 mph. The man who saw the flames first raced to the fire department at the end of the block; no one was there. Neighbors called 911, were put on hold. The man began stomping out small blazes until firefighters arrived and doused the remaining outbreaks.

We neighbors talked to the captain about working together for safety – communications, evacuation drills, home hardening.

That night, PG&E restored power. Huge trucks parked at the PG&E-owned property where the fire started. They left giant lights illuminating the scene. We hoped they were monitoring it remotely. Just in case.


Maui was on everyone’s mind.

It’s like the Passover song, Dayenu – were it not for PG&E mowing the dry grass the week before; were it not for one man’s fast reactions; were it not for a fire truck blocks away; were it not for all that, those playful flames could have grown into a firestorm, ending our lives as we knew them.

We were lucky. The people in Maui were not.

Some of us have been lucky about so much, at least so far. Earthquake faults. The pandemic. Our democracy. War.

But our little fire brought home to me that it’s our world on fire, from the climate crisis to the rise of autocracy to wars seemingly everywhere. We need to be more than lucky. We need to work together, take whatever actions protect us – make plans, watch out for each other. Because when that fire starts – when that metaphoric or literal earthquake happens – we whose lives are at risk – and that’s all of us – are the only ones we can count on in our smoldering world.

With a Perspective, I’m Ann Manheimer.

Ann Manheimer writes for young people (and sometimes adults). She also hikes and sings, and lives with her spouse on an East Bay hilltop.

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