Where's Smokey When You Need Him?

Its fire season in Florida. I should qualify that perhaps. Its wintertime in Florida which translates into dry season which lends itself to the ideal conditions for wildfires. There have been quiet a few popup blazes in the last few days towards the eastern coast, notably in and around Titusville. I was on the coast myself near one of the areas and hopped out of my car to watch the ash and smoke fall to the southeast on a long trail inching over the horizon below the ceiling of pale blue sky.

Watching the oak hammock burn is somewhat hypnotizing. The smoke hits you first; a mixture of odors faintly reminiscent of pine needles and bonfires and the crisp but moldy scent of fallen leaves. Then you note the blue-white smoke billowing slowly up from the ground level beneath the canopy of cabbage palm and palmetto. The puffs are thick at this level but they thin out quickly into a dark river chasing away on the light wind.

The light wind is a bit of a godsend but even it manages to translocate quite a few embers and start smaller fires along the way. When I got back into my car I continued along my route east. I had a moment of panic when I realized the brush was on fire at the side of the road ahead. I can’t decide why I was all that concerned. Rationally I’m safe inside my moving vehicle from flames that do not usually travel at speeds of 70 mph and cannot chase me down. They’re not predatory. It must be some primitive part of my brain that reacts to the sight of flames and the smell of smoke and starts to pump in adrenaline into my system. Its probably the same one that switches on when pyromaniacs sit entranced while watching a bonfire and roasting their marshmallows.

I turned off the main trail, leading away from the blaze, but still within smelling distance of the smoke and pulled up to a light. The car ahead had a man bopping about in his seat to some unknown tune and taking long drags on his cigarrette. I was appalled when I watched him flick it out of his window and onto the pavement where it continued to burn amber and wisp thin threads. Forget the issue of pollution. Forget the issue of wildlife ingesting foreign objects. All it takes in fire season is a spark, and a cigarrette certainly qualifies.

After years of Smokey the Bear lamenting about the personal power of choice we still have this… and it upsets me that such a huge and long outreach campaign seems moot on an everyday basis. I was so annoyed that I felt like jumping out of my car and having a word with this guy. But the light turned green before I could decide. So I purposefully drove over the rolled paper and tried to enforce my will and my ideals the only way I still can: through my actions.