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Senseless acts

Stephen Tuttle - June 27th, 2011
Two families forever broken. One young life lost, another destroyed.
It couldn’t be more senseless.
So we search for answers that cannot be found, blame that cannot be
assigned. Nobody knows the precise genesis of the long cascade of
troubles that led to Carly Lewis’ death.
Some will insist parents are to blame or a malfunctioning school system or
the lack of social services that might have intervened. We need to find
something or someone we can pinpoint as a cause because it is so hard to
accept that which is so far beyond our understanding.
Some have said we’ve now lost our innocence. Our innocence was lost long
ago. It’s our naivete that’s still intact.
Too many of us seem to believe “that just doesn’t happen here.” But there
is nothing about Northern Michigan that makes us immune from anything. We
are not smarter or nicer or more compassionate or better than anyone else
anyplace else. Our beautiful, small communities have many advantages and
blessings but neither tragedy nor ugliness detours around the area.
Northern Michigan shares a part of every problem faced by the worst of our
biggest cities.
Patrick Sullivan’s excellent June 6 article in these pages was evidence
enough that we have our own deadly drug problems. In just the three years
since I moved back to the region we’ve had babies discarded like trash, a
murder-suicide in a downtown Traverse City parking lot, multiple drug
overdose deaths, the occasional murder and now Carly Lewis.
We desperately search for answers but, in truth, there is little we can do
to stop it. Tragedy finds us no matter how hard we try to hide from it.
Acts that most of society views as completely irrational cannot be stopped
with rational solutions.
Parents do their best as do public and private social
organizations and the men and women of law enforcement. Their
interventions and nurturing stop untold horrors before they get started
but the all too real nightmares still creep into our most restful sleep.
We can’t build cocoons, much as we’d like to, that forever protect our
children, family and friends from the demons that come calling.
So we comfort those most deeply wounded as best we can and pray we’re not
home when the next tragedy visits. There is nothing else we can do.
***
I just returned from a short visit to Arizona, much of which is currently
on fire due to another kind of senseless act.
The Wallow Fire in the northeastern part of the state has now burned a
staggering 512,000 acres as I’m writing this. Tens of thousands of
additional acres will have burned by the time you read this.
It is the largest fire in Arizona history and was caused by some numbskull
or numbskulls who were unable to complete the very simple act of
completely extinguishing their campfire. They endangered thousands of
lives, millions of dollars of private property and turned more than 800
square miles of Arizona forest into an ash pit. The toll on wildlife is
impossible to judge but it’s safe to assume tens of thousands of slower
moving animals did not outrun the fire.
Some 4,000 fire fighters have been struggling to contain this beast at a
cost of many tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.
It’s hard to understand just how big this fire is but think of it this way
– it has consumed an area a bit larger than the land mass of Grand
Traverse and Leelanau counties combined.
In far southern Arizona the Monument Fire, origin unknown, has burned
30,000 acres, has already destroyed dozens of homes and continues to
threaten even more.
The blame game is in full swing. Republicans have decided “radical
environmentalists” are at fault because, they say, their lawsuits and
protests have prevented needed logging. John McCain, who really should
know better, blames illegal immigrants. (To be fair, one smallish fire in
southern Arizona was apparently started at an illegal immigrant
encampment.)
In fact, it is environmental groups who have proposed the only common
sense solution to ridding Arizona’s forests of the impenetrable brush
and smaller trees that fuel these giant fires. Working with the
National Forest Service and logging companies, they suggest a
combination of brush clearing and targeted logging that could definitely
help prevent the conflagrations that have become an annual disaster.
Not surprisingly, it is the politicians and bureaucrats standing in the
way of implementing the plan.
The areas charred by fire will repair themselves but it will take decades.
In the meantime, as the monsoon approaches with its high winds and dry
lightning, more fires are likely. Just as bad, the rains that can
accompany the monsoon will turn the burned hillsides and ravines into
torrents of ash-filled muck with the occasional burned log thrown in. With
no vegetation left to absorb the water and nothing left to hold the ground
in place, flooding is an inevitability, destroying much of what’s left of
the watershed and wildlife habitat.
Wildfires caused by lightning are a natural part of the western forests’
ecosystem. Some pine cones can only open and disperse their seeds in a
fire and lay dormant waiting for what are literally the flames of life for
them.
But we’ve allowed our national forests to become brush pile tinder boxes
enabling productive and helpful ground fires to race into the treetops and
explode into uncontrollable and hyper-destructive crown fires. And we’ve
allowed communities to penetrate deeper and deeper into wildlands with no
requirement they create a safe interface by clearing brush and scrub
trees.
So we watch in horror and wonder at the full fury of fire uncontrolled.
Two different human-caused tragedies and neither makes any sense at all.

 
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