Finding Silver Linings after Midwestern Wildfires

The Editorial Director of MOTHER EARTH NEWS discusses the importance of positivity in the aftermath of a disaster.

sunlight shining through cloud

Make the choice to stay positive during times of adversity.

Photo by iStock/AndrewLilley.

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Some folks criticize me bitterly for choosing to take a positive stance in life. So be it. I was reminded in the past several weeks of why I choose to focus my energies that way — ironically, it was the aftermath of a horrific series of wildfires that swept entire counties in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and a few other places that reminded me that staying positive and finding silver linings is indeed a choice. You can curl up into a ball and cry, you can focus your anxieties to drive your anger, you can attack policies, you can attack choices, you can rant on and on about climate change and its putative perpetrators — all the while looking for some scapegoat to justify the catastrophe. Or, you can choose to assess the situation and find the internal fortitude to transcend a need to judge and justify, and simply seek community resilience by asking your fellow humans, what can I do to help?

The wildfires here in “Flyover Country” were devastating. We’ll sort out the hows and the whys sometime in the future. The immediate need was for help. Emotional help for those who lost it all — family heirlooms and photos, a livelihood, the life of a loved one. Physical help for those who will rebuild miles of fencing, houses, barns, herds. And help in the form of fundamental needs, such as food, water, shelter, livestock feed, fencing materials — the list for disaster recovery requirements goes on. And while the effort to meet those needs is ongoing, the early responders were neighbors, churches, firefighters, and the American Red Cross.

But it didn’t end there. Soon enough, farmers and ranchers from around the country were loading flatbed semitrailers and pickup-towed gooseneck trailers with millions of pounds of hay, haylage, fence posts, wire, feed, you name it. Convoys of up to 50 supply-laden rigs hit the highways in neighboring states to resupply and help rebuild burned-out ranches. Convoys arrived from as far away as Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania! Haul boards were set up to put donated trucks in contact with donated hay — in my county, it took weeks before trucks were available to deliver our excess to points out west.

While I have focused on the grassroots logistics effort of connecting hay and trucks for disaster recovery, there is so much more to this uplifting story of people helping other people. Donated meals were prepared, clothing was collected, volunteered labor was organized — the list is staggering. What’s even more remarkable to me is that this catastrophe brought together folks who don’t all agree on religion, politics, farming practice, health care, firearms, philosophy, or much of anything else. But they do agree on at least one thing: People in need require support from their fellow human beings.

If you’ve got a knack for noticing silver linings or could tell us a tale of humans stepping in to help one another, please send me an email — send photos too, if you can — and we might be able to get some of your experiences and ideas into a future issue.

See you in August,
Hank