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The Normality of Apocalypses [September 6 2017]

We woke up yesterday morning with my excited son urging us to get outside to see the snow outside. We didn’t exactly jump out of bed since we could feel the temperature and know immediately that this wasn’t snow.

Still, we believed him that something was up and that there was something snow-like outside. Her mother quickly hypothesized that he must have been looking at bone dust from working on a bone blade that I’d have neglected to clean up. I relectantly admitted this was a fair hypothesis since I had in fact neglected to clean up after myself.

A few more minutes of talking and slowly accepting it was time to get up, my wife went outside while I checked the news. I immediately saw the pictures of the fire in The Gorge and the news about the smoke and ash coming to Portland.

Ash caught in a spider’s web

Later that day, we saw a UPS driver wearing a face mask and the mailwoman wearing a bandana. This was an unusual scene and it felt a bit like an pre-apocalyptic moment. But since things remained somewhat functional, everyone was going with their default routine except with the addition of air filtering devices on their faces.

I sat down, looking at the ash still falling and got thinking. Was this what the apocalypse would look like? A slow series of events we can accomodate to? I was reminded of how normative comparisons and seeing your neighbor’s behavior can affect one’s actions. In this case, the neighbors were going to work and sending their kids to school. It seemed like it wasn’t the time to stop and reconsider the best thing to do in that moment. This might indeed be something like an apocalypse but we’ve got enough layers of abstraction to not realize it and it’s making us blind to what’s almost at our doorsteps.

I imagine a parallel universe where enough neighbors would walk outside looking at the ash falling. Maybe a few of us would be crying thinking of the wildlife running away from the fire, losing their habitat. Maybe we’d start talking about how that’s also good for the forest to get a fire once in a while. Maybe we’d think of how the poor forest management and practices were making this one bigger and more devastating than it could have been. I imagine a few of us saying “fuck it, I’m not going to work today” and we’d just stay there, on the street, grieving together. Watching the red sun and the ashes falling silently, maybe we’d slowly start wanting to be closer to those events instead of just projecting pictures taken online in our minds. One of the neighbors would offer his place on the coast that needs some work to make sure the dead limbs aren’t a fire hazard.

Today, the mailwoman was back to normal (no bandana). The delivery guys were showing their unobstructed faces again. It’s true that the ashes weren’t falling from the sky like they did the day prior. But the smoke and red sun were still very present. In the background, we could hear the news about hurricanes down in the South. Major events for the news but nothing preventing us to go on with our routines. Was everyone already used to the new normal?

The temperature of the water just jumped a few degrees and the pace to a boil just increased but it seems like we might just get used to this. Thinking back on the very visual scenes of apocalypse from yesterday, I wonder if we’ve just been in this apocalypse from even before I was born and I just didn’t have any reference to see it.

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