A hundred shades of green flushing across the trees, an errant yellow daffodil, pink and white blossoming fruits – the colors of spring are as delicate as they are welcome. Little wonder, then, that a primary celebration of spring – the Christian festival of Easter – should be a season of pastels. Easter baskets, dyed eggs, little girls’ dresses, greeting cards and candies are awash in lilac and lemon, baby-cheek pink, soft peach and plum.
Even those who don’t celebrate Easter as a religious occasion enjoy the profusion of new life it heralds, the verdant growth and wash of color after the long, monotoned winter. It’s always fun to track the seasons as they saunter about the country and Spring is especially interesting, walking hand-in-hand as she does with a companion called “seasonal jealousy” – the anguished longing of still-snowbound folk forced to watch their more-southerly friends luxuriate in the rising warmth.
But spring is more complex than luscious color and delicate growth. A time of transition, it also brings destruction, the inevitable result of implacable, colliding forces. Winter refuses to yield. Spring will not be denied. Tornados, ice jams, flooding and hail result and become the breaking news of the day. This year, Texas added fire to the mix, a deadly consequence of the same extended drought which eliminated so many of the state’s celebrated bluebonnets.
With friends living both in Canada and across Texas’ drought-stricken plains, it’s been impossible not to think of this year’s spring as a season of fire and ice. Extraordinarily late thaws and extraordinarily early drought are a strange combination, one that evokes Robert Frost’s famous juxtaposition.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
I’ve always admired Frost’s poem, its imagery and economy of expression. Still, in the context of natural disasters Frost’s particular mix of ice-and-fire feels somehow bloodless, lacking a sense of the silent, almost imperceptibly dripping icicles that foretell unleashed, creaking and groaning rivers or the cellophane-like crackling of embers taking root among the grasses, waiting to explode without warning into a maelstrom of hellish blooms.
For a different view of ice and its implications for fire, I’ve been enjoying the work of Science Essayist Meera Lee Sethi, whose poem Null and Void I noticed and then forgot, until fires began to burn across Texas.
Null and Void
It is in the nature of ice
to be always on the verge
of giving in. Steel stays steel
for thousands of degrees,
defending its solidity
against exquisite heat
—though whether this is
stalwart or just stubborn,
none can say.
But ice, like you
or I, stands a hair’s breadth
from its reverse. A trifling
bit of warmth is all it takes
to change what seemed
so hard into the paragon
of softness; what was once
resolute of shape becomes
a sycophant that yields
like butter to the management
of mere containers. Sorry
are the thoughts
that prickle ice while
it is melting: all its qualities
disbanding into what
it feared the most.
not cold enough on Earth
to keep ice safe
As for ice, so for fire. Fire, too, “stands a hair’s breadth from its reverse” just as the hardest structure, the hardiest tree stand in the face of fire only moments away from the softness of ash. Only the foolish or inexperienced fail to take note and wonder – is there water enough in the skies to save the earth from fire? In Texas just now the answer is “No”, and until rains come only the skill and determination of firefighters, the ability of communities to band together in mutual aid and a dollop of luck will provide defense. Anyone who’s witnessed the threat understands. Nothing less will do.
Tonight, on this soft spring evening, there are places where the battle has been won, at least temporarily. In the Davis mountains of far west Texas, the fires were unearthly, both beautiful and terrifying, but the McDonald Observatory is safe. In Palo Pinto County, an entire town which undertook evacuation has survived. Writing for France24, Gary Reynolds describes the scene in Palo Pinto City:
The entire population of the town had less than two hours to evacuate after the order was given. The town’s natural gas had to be shut down immediately, so utility workers were rushing to close all of the gas points. It was incredible to see the community rally together – villagers, local volunteers, police – to help everyone get out in a safe and orderly way. People lent their vehicles and trucks to those who had none, neighbours helped each other gather their cattle and livestock, which had to be evacuated too.
The practical courage of the townspeople and the deeply touching bravery of the firefighters was joined by luck. The winds shifted and carried the fire away.
Others were not so lucky. Near Strawn and San Angelo, in Presido and Jeff Davis counties and in the Possum Kingdom area, much has given in to the force of the fire, leaving little more than acrid whiffs of memory and the softness of ash. In Cedar Springs, which has no springs but which did have an abundance of flammable cedar, even the tiny United Methodist Church is gone.
Erected in 1898 after years of worship in homes and brush arbors, the congregation currently is pastored by the Rev. Jim Senkel, a fellow who gained some wildfire experience in 2005 when a similar fire consumed the building belonging to his congregation at Cross Plains United Methodist Church, not to mention 116 homes and 7,500 acres in Callahan County.
That fire was in December. On New Year’s day the congregation met for worship in the parking lot of the burned-out church. During Rev. Senkel’s sermon, one of the remaining church walls crashed to the ground, and during the closing prayer fire engines shrieked their way to yet another fire. Looking at the photos of the Cedar Springs church, it occurs to me: at least this time they’ll not have to worry about walls collapsing. Whether they’ll have to contend with more fire engines remains to be seen.
What’s certain is that, with or without accompanying sirens, the community will continue to gather. They’ll gather in the churches, of course, but they’ll also be gathering in the feed stores and gas stations, over fences and over coffee, with old friends and with strangers who’ve become friends through necessity and circumstance. Tearful, resigned, resolute or weary, they’ll do together what each of us often does instinctively – take a deep breath, decide what comes next and move on.
Like fire, like ice, they may feel on the verge of yielding, but it’s not in their nature to give in.