Since I was a young girl growing up in the Eastern Sierra, I have collected heroes in all sorts of categories — teachers, poets, business people, Girl Scout leaders, disc jockeys at 91X in San Diego and pop singers, just to name a few. But one collection stands out above all others – those who save animals, trees and the people with whom they share this planet. I cherish my hero collections — dog, cat, and farm animal rescue groups; writers who tackled toxics in the environment and changed the very products we use in our homes (It is difficult to imagine fathers in the 1950s spraying DDT on their front lawns); and biologists and attorneys who observe the death of a place, like Mono Lake, due to excessive water withdrawals by a city far away, and then devise a way to save it.
But the centerpiece of my hero collection is my sister Carol. She is a self-taught naturalist of the finest order, an amateur photographer who sees what we all pass by or dismiss: lichen growing on granite, the pointed tips like mice tails peeking out from pine cones and each dew drop on every California poppy. Lucky for all of us living in drought-drenched California, Carol is a level head in a wildfire, which unfortunately for the Western United States, are occurring more and more often.
Frightened residents, broadcast news anchors, bloggers, newspaper reporters and public officials hear Carol’s voice on the line when they need information on road closures, fire location and number of acres burned. The vital information Carol provides allows the firefighting crews to do their job effectively and to adhere to the number one rule: all firefighters go home to their families at the day’s end.
Carol is also a terrific writer. She recently published an important essay on what many people never hear about – what is it actually like to fight a fire? Units of men and women do everything they can to protect lives and in the course of their duty save structures, houses, ranches, animals and water supply. What is extraordinary about firefighters is that they do all this without knowing who they are saving. Even more, their mission is fraught with conflicts between uncontrollable and often unknowable conditions in the atmosphere and on the ground (the deadly combination of steep, inaccessible terrain and mercurial, unpredictable wind speed and direction), yet they pursue their goal with ferocious ambition and selflessness.
Read Carol’s essay and let her know how valuable she is in responding to catastrophe in the comments section below. She has been my hero for nearly 40 years. Add her to your own hero collection. You’ll be glad you did.