Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
Sat, April 20

Column: The fires of human culture

Driving down to Phoenix just after Highway 69 reopened brought up two parallel topics.

Before getting as far south as the smoking remnants of the fire, my stops took me through a neighborhood in Prescott Valley and into Prescott Country Club. They look so nice, so safe, so modern. Although we know better here, in many parts of the country, like where I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, wildfires are either something out of the past, or which only occur in large national forests; places Smokey Bear watches over.

I remember reading about early sod-busters in the great plains. They would take turns watching all night during fire season because if a glow was seen on the horizon they didn’t have long to gather things, set back fires, save what they could, including themselves.

The neighborhoods here seem so modern it’s hard to imagine they could fall to a danger as ancient as wildfire, but as editor Tim just reminded us in this paper Sunday, it was just 15 years ago the Indian Fire came right up to White Spar road and threatened to sweep through old, central neighborhoods of Prescott. It was only thwarted by all-night, extraordinary effort.

That modern, safe, “it couldn’t happen here” appearance is an illusion we paint on top of ancient realities.

Driving past the remaining smoke of the Goodwin Fire it seemed the same is true of the news of late. The open displays of racism, the tribal mentality of our group first, or our group only and the heck with the rest, or worse, a growing openness to actively persecute those who don’t fit one’s notion of “people like me.” Our Fool-in-Chief carelessly washing away lines between personal interest and duty of office, oblivious of the boundaries of office that keep power in check, oblivious to the rights of others that keep us free. The many who, with legitimate grievances, are willing to be silent partners in the active undermining of the best things about America in order to get their grievances addressed.

We are literally, and I do mean literally, flirting either with chaos or with oppression and the abandonment of the rights of others and, unavoidably, of our own rights. We are stepping into the waters of the exact same flaws we humans have displayed endless times in history; descent into power wielded like a club by whoever uses it the most. Descent into rights and principles, like democracy, being dropped along the way as nice ideas that are inconvenient to current ambitions. The same pattern we’ve repeated, from the wars in the ancient Fertile Crescent to the neighbor-on-neighbor chaos of Serbs and Croats in the former Yugoslavia. We’re not that deep into trouble yet, but it is those exact same flaws we are letting grow.

Our thin, modern illusion of difference is just paint on top of ancient realities.

What do we do about fire danger? For one, we tend our own sphere to make sure our space acts as a break against encroachment. We keep watch and jump quickly on small fires to stop them from spreading. Despite biblical injunctions, we have no choice but to reprimand fools who think they can use fire and are utterly oblivious of the enormous damage they could spark and set to running wild.

It is a modern, safe world for the moment, but we can’t forget that it still sits on ancient realities. To remain safe takes active, diligent effort.

Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments at


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