Running From Disaster

As my friend Rabbi Elisa Koppel said to me last night when I mentioned this, travel makes the world a very small place. Sadly, that seems especially true when you’re faced with disasters: we stayed at the Mandalay Bay Hotel less than two weeks before the horrible shooting in Las Vegas; we visited Glacier National Park when the fire there was still small and relatively contained; we avoided Houston because of the disasters of Hurricane Harvey; and we delayed our visit to New Orleans by a few days to avoid the thankfully-not-a-big-deal that was Hurricane Nate. We spent most of August changing our route to avoid the fires in the west and Pacific Northwest. And now, of course, we’re watching fires burn wine country in California, which we visited just a few short weeks ago.

Disaster — be it man-made like Las Vegas, natural, or a combination of the two (where is the line between whether fires, drought, hurricanes, and the like are purely a result of Mother Nature, or are a product of human-produced climate change?) — seems to make the world small, especially when you’ve been where the disaster hits, and can visualize that place in happier times. Climate change sure feels real — and like something far more than a theory contained in dry scientific papers — when you spend two months trying to drive away from its effects.

So here we go…

Glacier National Park on August 23, 2017, before one of its historic chalets was burnt to the ground by the wildfire that was already burning when we were there (note the smoky haze already in evidence when looking across the valley toward the glaciers):

Wildfires and their smoke and ash in the Pacific Northwest, including fires visible from Puget Sound looking past the Seattle skyline:

And direct evidence of the smoke and ash in Portland, Oregon, where we woke up to ash covering everything our last morning there, and then the drive through Oregon and south into California, where the smoke made the entire trip feel positively apocalyptic:

Due to wildfires and their associated smoke, ash, and terrible air quality, we missed two places I was really looking forward to seeing: Crater Lake National Park and Yosemite National Park.

Instead, we decided to use some of that time to visit California’s wine country, which wasn’t really a planned stop in our initial thinking. Now, of course, large swaths of this beautiful landscape are on fire; approximately 2,000 homes and businesses have burned; many people have been injured; and at least 15 people are dead as a result.

And of course, in Las Vegas we were fortunate enough that we stayed at the Mandalay Bay more than a week before that evil man murdered almost 60 people.

Thankfully, so far New Orleans has been wonderful, despite a thunderstorm and downpour we spent in a combination of St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square and a kids-allowed New Orleans Bar/Restaurant. The World War II Museum was excellent today too.

Fellow Americans, fellow humans, nature may be red of tooth and claw, but we need to do what we can not to exacerbate natural disaster (and to stop bringing human-made disasters upon ourselves). I am no scientist, but our anecdotal experience since we left home in June certainly makes me feel rather than just intellectually understand that climate change is upon us, and we must take steps to stop making it worse. We must do this now, as it seems that it’s rapidly becoming too late. Traveling may make the world smaller, but what I’m finding it also does is to give us a relationship to — and therefore a stake in — so many more parts of this great country we call home. Let’s stop destroying it before it’s too late. New Orleans works to preserve its jazz and its culture in the face of terrible geography and rapid gentrification. Let’s work to preserve this great and beloved country we have the privilege of calling home.


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