"We have fires we can't find — we can't see them for the smoke."
— firefighter Don Ferguson
We should know by now that someone is always watching and, when the hubbub we encounter on Spaceship Earth becomes clouded to cacophonous levels, the great Flying Spaghetti Monster in the sky offers clarity in the form of a natural metaphor.
Pagans and Pastafarians alike recognize our smoke-filled skies for what they are — a sign that our vision has been obscured by potential disaster. Our eyes tear up, our breath becomes harder to find, our taste buds swelter in a state of perpetual barbecue.
The smoke sifts onto us like an additional layer of skin, and the unnatural shades of light and dark that confront us clog our ability to filter the pathways to our synapses.
So, we don masks "¦ and stay indoors "¦ and wear one of those light visors that turned Walt into an addict on "Northern Exposure" "¦ and hydrate "¦ and shield our children and our pets and, sometimes, even ourselves from the blanket of obscurity that makes even the simplest daily task a burden of incalculable weight.
But "¦ enough about politics. How about these wildfires?
There are two things for certain under these circumstances. The first, and most obvious, is that it takes a particularly admirable sort of individual who decides to head toward the flames (when, that is, they can see them through the smoke) and attempt to get fires under control.
Firefighters are the evolutionary descendants of those brave souls who decided to risk falling off the edge of the Earth by sailing past the horizon, who looked at a lobster crawling on the ocean floor and thought, "I bet that tastes great drenched in butter," or who sat mesmerized by Johnny Bravo's stylistic adventurousness and went all-in on a man-perm of their own.
Firefighters are, therefore, worthy of our gratitude (except, you know, when their union wants to ensure their health benefits and their pensions "¦ because, apparently, that's when some of the same people who would call them "heroes" today will claim tomorrow that they're living high off the hog of the public trough.)
In short, though, firefighters are not us. They consider the flames, as we are defiantly content watching the shadows flicker across the walls of the cave. That much is clear, as much as anything can be clear in this atmosphere.
Take care when you are breathing
Something's funny in the air
And some things, they're not saying
'bout what's happening out there
It's inside out.
Yes, The Traveling Wilburys tried to warn us about haze like this 20 years ago. But we were too busy trying to determine whether Tom Petty was mimicking Bob Dylan's vocals, or vice versa, to actually listen to the message.
Because, while we're busy being body-snatched by the smoke, the fires are still burning. Some we can see, and some we can't. With a dangerous amount of particulates inhibiting our ability to see or speak clearly.
Whether it's donning surgical masks or staying indoors, those of us who wouldn't brave man-perms look for the simplest defense mechanisms against the smoke. It's understandable; we've dealt with the same foulness in the air year after year so it wears us down to the bare essentials.
How do we get from here to there, and back again, safely.
It's easier to wage a war on drugs than a war on addiction. It's easier to stage 40 soon-to-be-ignored votes to "repeal Obamacare" than it is to create a system that will allow our seniors and veterans and the poorest among us to have access to proper medical care. It's easier to build a fence across our Southern border than to live up to the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.
We don't run head-first into the flames because we are not firefighters — not only because we lack the skill-set, but because we lack the acceptance that fighting a fire takes cunning and compromise and calculation. It takes planning and perspective and performance.
We prefer the easy way out "¦ the pathway that allows our citizenship to stand our ground, shoot first and ask questions later.
Eagle Point continues its deliberations on the safety of its children, and whether arming teachers is a proper proactive defense inside their schools.
The committee charged with coming up with a solution to a potential tragedy recently heard suggestions to wield baseball bats against an armed attacker, to strategically place teachers and students for an effective counterstrike, to having teachers ready to jump on the back of an assailant (WHO HAS A GUN) and gouge their eyes out.
These same teachers who would become would-be heroes (except, you know, when their union wants to ensure their health benefits and their pensions "¦ because, apparently, that's when some of the same people who would call them "heroes" today will claim tomorrow that they're living high off the hog of the public trough) should treat their students as shepherds do their sheep, and keep them from harm.
Except, of course, armed attackers never quite act according to emergency plans established by a committee. They're not quite likely to passively stand there with their AK-47 as eye-gouging teachers and bat-wielding students charge forth like so many lambs to the slaughter. Fighting fire with fire works against nature; against nurture, not so much.
But it's easier to throw theorticals spitballs for the apparently eventual attack against the wall than it is to uncover and treat the roots of sociopathy in the first place.
The gunman is the smoke monster, as are the "dangers" of Obamacare, the "job-stealing" of illegal immigrants, the "attack on our way of life" of gay marriage, the "threat to our ecosystem" of ski trails, and so many more "¦ all whipped into a frenzy by the hot air of those who know that most of us wouldn't dare be the first to eat a lobster, that we'd rather shield our eyes and stay inside where the recycled air is relatively clear.
As the fires burn.
Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org