A fierce hot August led to brittle dry hills where my great-great-grandmother Martha Maupin bought her own farm almost 150 years ago. On a neighboring hill an unknown spark lit the tinder yesterday, and flames soon swept across 60 acres less than a mile from the edge of the property–about a mile and a half from my house on this family farm.
My kids and I happened to be in Eugene, Oregon, where my grandson Alex Loznak is one of 21 plaintiffs who are suing the government to demand effective action to combat climate change. In his speech on the federal courthouse steps after the hearing Alex said, in part:
Today my great-great-great-great grandmother’s legacy is threatened by the changing climate, by droughts and fires and heatwaves that threaten to undo all of the work my family has put into our land. So I’m standing here to demand that our federal government act with the same courage and vision that my ancestor Martha employed, and preserve our planet just as my family has preserved our farm. [My bold]
Later in the afternoon we were sitting outside a restaurant near the courthouse with other supporters of this case when my son-in-law Robin, who took these pictures, noticed a story on his cell that there was a fire on Highway 138 close to the family farm. He and my daughter Carisa had to take Alex to the airport to go back to New York where he’s a student at Columbia University, and I headed for home, not knowing what I would find.
On the long drive from Eugene I easily imagined many scenarios and contemplated what I would retrieve from my house if I was able to reach it. What was important? My computer which has all my work on it. My daughter’s films and puppets. Not much else. Our work.
As many of you know, Martha’s story was the subject of my book A Place of Her Own. This is the ancestor Alex is talking about, and it’s her farm, now mine, that stands so close to the reported wildfire. She purchased this in 1868 after her husband was killed and she needed a way to care for her family. It’s the Martha A. Maupin Century Farm, one of the few Century Farms in Oregon named for a woman. If I can hang on another year and a half it will be a Sesquicentennial Farm. But what if flames ravaged its resources?
As I approached the roadblock at the Kellogg bridge, my breath nearly stopped. Lines of flame rose on the peaks straight ahead and far to my left. I learned firefighters had put out the fire on my side of the highway, and it had spread westerly. They let me head for home. I watched the scene from my kids’ house and then my own as the sky grew dark. A stunning view. Helicopters poured water from the Umpqua River and air tankers dumped fire retardant. Late that night the billowing flames had been reduced to twinkling embers, like golden stars dropped from the sky. I went to bed and slept.
Thanks to the fine work of the brave firefighters of the Douglas Forest Protective Association and other local responders the fire has been contained. I woke to quiet. Thin smoke drifted above a darker swath on the hillside.
My grandson’s words echoed. “Droughts and fires and heatwaves . . .”
Now, in the afternoon, a helicopter flies by on its way to the site. Smoke still rises. The throb of helicopters continues. I remain watchful.