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Abigail B. Calkin

A Blog of Flashbacks

What Are the Symptoms of PTDS and the Planet’s Natural Disasters?

(continued theme from October 2020)….

November 2020

Last month’s forest fires started with natural danger as huge fires continue to burn across our planet—Australia, Siberia, and the western United States.  I begin with the last paragraph from last month. The three named here Holiday Farm, Brattain Ridge, and Crane Mountain Fires affected me personally.
What does it take to pull out of a hole such as PTSD? I often think of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and his Slough of Despair and Slough of Despond and drag myself through the muck. I always felt a bit like a sabre tooth tiger caught in the La Brea Tar Pits and that horrible struggle to escape the inescapable. A person is different though. We can choose to walk around pit after pit and never confront the issues that face us. Or we can walk through the muck and come out the other side. It might take years, but as Peter Matthiessen said in his book In Paradise, “The only whole heart is the broken heart. But it must be wholly broken.” Only after it is wholly broken can we mend it back into a whole heart.

At present, the planet is in its own post-traumatic stress situation. For once, I will not give you statistics, but point out a few things. I called my son’s babysitter from 50 years ago. She lives on the McKenzie Highway, the only direct route from Eugene east to Bend, Oregon. On one side lie the forested hills. On the other the McKenzie River and more forested hills. Pinched between these steep hillsides of thick 100-foot tall Douglas fir trees lies 80 miles of the two-lane McKenzie Highway that day with a Level 3 evacuation order. Such an order means everyone has two to three minutes to get in the car and get out of there. I called her.

-How are you?


-Where are you?

She called to her daughter.

-Kathy, where are we?

They were in Junction City, a Willamette Valley town about forty miles west of Leaburg along the McKenzie. I have a sister-in-law in Junction City and she’d already told me it was raining, or snowing, ash and she couldn’t see the road about 100 feet from her house.

I used to live along the McKenzie Highway some thirty feet from the river, twenty if it was high water. I could imagine many things safer than being in that forest and having burning trees surround around my wooden home.

That did it for me. All we had worldwide was a pandemic. All we had in eastern Oregon was smoke from Oregon and California fires. But Oregon on fire tipped me over the edge. I burst into tears a few times every day that first week. Towns in Oregon were gone—Phoenix, Detroit, and Blue River. Gone to the ground. When I met my husband, he lived in a cabin in Blue River. There yesterday, but probably gone today. Last Australian summer, 3 billion, 3 billion, animals died in forest fires. In July of this year, an area of Siberia larger than the country of Greece burned. The planet burns as it never has in human memory, no, as it never has before in history. The planet is infected with a pandemic.

Like it or not, believe it or not the fact remains that this planet of ours is infected with the coronavirus pandemic. Like it or not, believe it or not the fact remains that this planet of ours—its air, water, its oceans and rivers, fields and forest—is infected with climate change. When Arctic explorers head to the Bering and Arctic seas in the 2020 winter and never don their long underwear, the planet has a problem. Do not rejoice at having a year-round open Northwest Passage because that also means parts of Arizona have days or more of temperatures over 110 degrees Fahrenheit or the Middle East has temperatures of over 125 degrees Fahrenheit

Like it or not, believe it or not, we now live amidst the brutal facts of stress, be they the pandemic, climate change or individual economic devastation. Too many have gone over their personal boundaries that lead them into intermittent lifelong fears and stresses.

If you believe you are not affected, if nothing has happened to you or yours, please remember you are not immune. COVID-19 is thus named because it began in 2019. Here I sat, walked, slept, ate, and lived until a couple of weeks ago, a lifelong friend told me five of her neighbors had died. Although I felt for Virginia losing neighbors of 25 years or more, still I was not affected. While I knew national and international statistics, I did not know them. Days ago I learned a professional colleague died. From what, I asked. From COVID came the reply. Now I was affected. Here was someone I’d known for more than three decades. Never again would I be able to look at her in her slightly overdressed and beautiful outfits, see what exquisite jewelry she wore, listen to her laugh or lilting N’Orleans drawl, or hear more about her excellent work. To those who say the coronavirus does not exist—it’s just the flu, or AIDS is just for gay people—I want to say wait till you or someone you love gets it. To the neighbor who says that scientific facts are just beliefs and he does not believe them. But they are facts, I reply. Well, he says, I don’t believe them. He walks away as I stand stunned. I wish I had said, ___, it is a fact there stands a tree there, pointing to the one 50 feet from us. It’s not a question of belief.

I can only hope that a person’s spouse does not die. Or a child. I can only hope that someone who survives a fire, flood, hurricane, or someone who survives COVID is not stuck with the aftereffects of bodily damage or loss of all possessions. I know, however, that there are those who suffer from PTSD because they lost their homes and all possessions in the 2020 forest fires. I have listened to too many survivors of World War II, veterans of Vietnam, parents who have lost a child, spouses who lost the love of a lifetime who remain damaged people. Yes, of course, most, but not all, heal. But what about Earth? Societies suffer for centuries or die off completely after a pandemic. We must consider that.

We must remember that we have only one life, only one planet.

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