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Watching my Hometown Burn:

George Frey

Eugene is a mid-sized city in the U.S. state of Oregon. Located in the northwestern portion of the country, it’s idyllically situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade mountains and besides being the home of The University of Oregon, I live there for seven years. Eugene was the city that made me, it was the city that harbored my childhood curiosity and the city where I had many firsts. One of the more distinctive collections of memories I have of Oregon was driving east of Eugene and up into the mountains, stopping in tranquil little mountain towns along the way.

Watching the massive sequoia and redwood trees pass by as our family car drove along the small mountain roads was almost like driving through the concrete canyons of a city. The trees reached far into the sky and the forest had a kind of buzz all it’s own. Nearly a decade after I left Eugene those trees, those towns, many of them were wiped out. Decades of history, small businesses and people are gone. Reduced to ash, with only an orange sky above as a memorial to their legacies.

Now, I live on the other side of the country, I’m studying journalism at university thousands of kilometers away from the fires out west. Yet, for several days when I looked up into the sky, ash was floating in the upper stratosphere giving the sky a gray-ish hue and partially blocking out the sun. To think that the fires were so large and so extensive that I could see their impacts with my own eyes, even though I’m not there, awakened me. It was at that moment that I realized that so many places which I enjoyed in childhood were now completely destroyed.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Portland, people do not see gray, they see orange. The fire’s ash has blocked sunlight and whole days feel as if the sun is just beginning to rise. As far away as New York, people could see with their own two eyes the gray ash floating above and the red hot sun, looking almost as if it has been obscured by a thick fog. For a moment in time, much of the US lay underneath a gray layer of ash. But, concern for the fires was not seen in the White House.

Donald Trump’s climate policies, or lack thereof, have really put the United States on the edge, not that we were not already in regards to how we have dealt with COVID-19. As an American, I am embarrassed, but more than anything, I’m angrier. We have come to accept that, every summer a portion of the country is enveloped by flames and choked by smoke. But, why exactly?

Is it merely the fault of Trump for being apathetic towards climate change, or is it a broader societal lapse in judgment? The reality is it is likely a combination of both. Human beings do not like to deal with the possibility of tragedy unless it is tangible to us. We don’t like to prepare for things that we know will likely not happen. But now, with the fire, there is a constant reminder of the destruction of the climate. It floats above, as an omnipresent force.

The only thing to do now is watch the clock tick downwards, the sky turns gray and the places I treasured be burned to the ground.

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