“You’ve never seen it! You’ve never seen it miss this house, and miss that house, and then come after you!”
This quote from the movie “Twister” ran through my head over and over last week.
See, I had business up in Boulder. And, the natural way there for me from my house takes me up past Flatiron Crossing Mall, through Superior, and up the highway, with Marshall on my left.
Just past the turnoff to the mall, you look to your left, past the trailhead parking area, and you can see where the fire burned…and where it didn’t. In a big field of dry grasses, the burn line cuts a weaving swath right down the middle. Everything to the right, burned and dead; everything to the left, still alive, waving in the early morning breeze.
A hundred yards further on, look to the right. There’s the fire line again, having jumped the road. Except this time, all the burn is on the other side—fortunately, saving the wooden fence 18 inches to the left…and the dozen houses beyond. Like a predator, stalking its prey, and then at the last minute deciding to pursue other quarry.
The giant apartment complex up on the hill seems to have dodged the destruction.
Quarter mile further up the street, I look to the left, down into a neighborhood, which, miraculously, seems to have avoided the inferno. Or not. First glances are deceiving, especially when driving. What I saw, on first glance, was the second block of the neighborhood. The traffic light allows me to look over and see the first block, razed to the ground. And then, beyond it, the third block, similarly obliterated. And, sure, it’s great that the houses remain standing in the middle of the neighborhood, but it becomes clear momentarily that the only people still occupying this area are insurance adjusters.
Back to the right side of the street, there’s the Tesla dealership, half of it charred, the windows boarded up. But just 20 yards over, there’s the Starbucks… serving customers. And behind that, the post-apocalyptic concrete hulk of a hotel.
It is unreal how the fire chose it victims. Carried on 100+ mph winds, it seems to have been in too big of a hurry to be thorough. Obviously, that’s no comfort to its victims, but the randomness of the whole thing defies explanation.
I know a lot of the conversation since this has been about the climate, how our intensely dry autumn made this situation vastly worse than it might have otherwise been. That conversation, I think, downplays to a degree how extraordinary the other elements of that day played together to brew this tragedy. I’ve lived here 50+ years and I think I can count on one hand the number of days that had extended 100 mph winds; and now there’s speculation that the fire may have ignited when it burst free from the underground coal mine where it had been burning… for 150 years!
Sometimes, nature rears up and send us a little reminder of who is in charge. A tornado which goes out of its way to miss a school but rips up a strip mall; a fire kindled underground and driven by hurricane-force winds; a virus.
Sure, we do things that make nature angry, and that’s part of the equation. Maybe, what? We should get back in the habit of pouring out libations before our evening meal?
We imagine, because to our knowledge there is nothing higher, that we sit atop the existential earth pyramid. We imagine, in our hubris, that we control it all, that we are masters of our domain.
We are wrong.
Every once in a while, we get a little reminder that best we can do is mitigate danger, but that, in the grand scheme of things… we are but dust and vapor.
Have a great week, friends!
Michael Alcorn is a former teacher and current writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Valkyrie’s Kiss,” a finalist in the ScreenCraft Book Competition, is available now at email@example.com. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.