“speak in consonants to the stars”

Fires of Change is a collaborative project with the Southwest Fire Science Consortium, the Flagstaff Arts Council, and the Landscape Conservation Initiative (LCI) funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and Joint Fires Sciences Program. It aims to translate the complex social and ecological (new term: ecopyrosocioeconomological) issues surrounding wildfire into art. Our hope is that art will educate and invigorate people about the beauty and ecological necessity of wild fire. In advance of our September 5, 2015 exhibit opening and September 19, 2015 reception at Coconino Center for the Arts, we will be having monthly blog updates from the 11 talented artists who are creating work for the project. For more information, take a look at the Flagstaff Arts Council exhibit page.

speak in consonants to the stars

This update comes to us from poet, David Chorlton:

Only a couple of days after returning from the week in northern Arizona, my first idea for writing came to me while I was out walking and thinking about anything but fire. It was to create a “Field Guide” which would, by its title, suggest that fire is a life form of a kind we identify the way we do birds and other wildlife.

Considering types of fire, I turned to sources including old Arizona newspapers such as the Coconino Sun with their reports from the nineteenth and early twentieth century. These papers are available, by the way, for anyone interested in tapping into the tone of life in “Wild West” days, online through The Library of Congress. https://sites.google.com/site/onlinenewspapersite/Home/usa/az

Once we depart from contemporary news language and priorities, we’re on the way to a broader range of ideas. After taking in the scientific material, I considered this reference to the Navajo to be a fascinating addition, and a stimulus to get my writing under way.








From the several other articles and features I found, these words by William Cronon in 1983 strike me as an excellent summation of where we find ourselves now:

. . . the choice is not between two landscapes,

            one with and one without a human influence;

            it is between two ways of living, two ways of

            belonging to an ecosystem.

Thinking back to our workshop days, especially the visits to locations where the forest is beginning its post-fire existence, I began a sequence called Sunlight and Ashes: Forest after Fire. This is section III:

Sunlight and Ashes: Forest after Fire III

Of the various approaches I considered, one was to try and describe how it feels for someone who lives in the path of a wildfire. This seemed too much for me to reach through speculation. Even poetry shouldn’t think it can speak for other people with any authority! I did remember our friends who live in the Chiricahua Mountains and who experienced an evacuation during the Horseshoe 2 fire in 2011. I’m not normally drawn to Facebook, but (with permission) I mined the comments from the Facebook page during the period in question and selected some that highlighted the feelings and priorities of those also threatened. I did add my own words to make the narrative, but the poem Firemail couldn’t have come from me alone. A few lines here, with my language in the serif face and the indented lines borrowed:

Highest Peaks

. . . and on the poem goes.

As birds (and other wildlife) are among my biggest interests, they appear in various ways in various poems, and get one sequence to themselves, in The Winged Forest. In fact, one section is dedicated to bats, also among my close friends. This is the reflection on the Flammulated Owl:

The Winged Forest







I enjoyed trying to think like a fire. That was liberating. Another place I looked to was the Heard Museum, where I like to consult the library. This time I can’t say I discovered many relevant books, but of the few there were some interesting pages. I read, for instance, that the pine forest as we know it goes back roughly ten thousand years. That isn’t a figure I’d have ventured a guess about, especially after looking into the Grand Canyon.

I can’t say, with thirty-some pages of poems, that I’ve finished writing, but there is enough to cover a range of approaches within a small chapbook. Whether new ideas occur to me or not, I would always look at a project like this and ask to what degree my own preconceptions have been modified. Sometimes that means a change of mind, sometimes it is an obvious point that hasn’t been considered or given the chance to surface. In this case, there has been a learning experience thanks to the scientists, and a stirring of the imagination thanks to the company of visual artists. After that, the solitude of writing itself, which grants entry to other levels of awareness. My current state of mind has me thinking about today’s firefighters and the ability we have to map and observe fires, as well as the over-arching problem of living in a world whose climate is changing in a manner threatening to many places and species of life. In a society where advertising is expert in trivialization, serious issues are easily displaced to make room for frivolous ones. If we think in terms of the ancient oracles, or even people who have lived for generations without industry or technology, we may discover a way to accept fire and use it to advantage. (This is the ending to Forest Oracle)

Forest Oracle