Choices We Make before the Fire by Janine Donoho

Harbinger from Canada

Harbinger from Canada

As the western part of the United States enters into desiccated autumn, we’re told that the official fire season has begun. In fact, fire season now begins nearly as soon as our shrunken snowpack melts. Once the native and invasive species of plants dries, we’re vulnerable to lightning strikes. Yet lightning causes only 10-20% of our wildfires. The other 80-90%? Human caused.

Slide Mountain near Washoe Valley

Slide Mountain near Washoe Valley

In the high Sierra Nevada Mountain range, where I spent my formative years, snowpack has declined for decades—more precipitously as we blow past the latest tipping points. That means wildfires in winter and early spring—the new normal. This aspect of climate change affects the western side of our continent from Alaska to Bolivia, excluding only the more tropical regions. For Okanogan County in Washington State, our wildfires began in late May this year with smoke plumes as harbingers.

Wildland wildfire in Nevada

Wildland wildfire in Nevada

Over a decade ago when we first moved here, Intrepid Guy, who grew up in Spokane, Washington, and I committed to fire proofing our home and property. We wanted no soft-bodied firefighter to stand between an inferno and our house. Our house perches where sagebrush steppe meets Ponderosa pine communities, landscapes that normally thrive with periodic fires. However, lowering water tables, beetle infestations, and fire suppression have reduced these communities’ resistance to wildfire damage. Here are the choices we made:

  • Fire-resistant fiber-cement siding (Hardy Board);
  • Metal roofing;
  • Lava rock mulch out 10 feet plus from the foundation;
  • Rock based circular driveway;
  • Islands of native and drought-resistant plantings with rock mulch and drip system hydration;
  • Native grasses and brush cut back at least 40 feet;
  • Lower branches of our Ponderosas and Douglas fir removed;
  • Predominantly metal structures versus wooden within 50 feet of the house; and,
  • Buried 1,750 gallon tank, topped off and better than spitting on a fire.
Firewise living

Firewise living

When the first wildfire threatened our home on July 4th seven years ago, it started within a quarter mile—bordering the steep slope leading to our home. Not good. Fire devours landscape uphill in its quest for oxygen.

Exemplary Department of Natural Resources (DNR) crews along with local volunteer departments aided by water and fire-retardant air drops limited this human caused wildfire to nine acres of non-fireproofed landscape. Trees crowned, wildlife fled or died, and I baked muffins, although not well, while brewing iced tea for the crews. The DNR incident manager designated our home as a safe house for sheltering firefighters. When we were told to evacuate, we did. We pay hefty fire insurance fees, keep important papers in a safe deposit box, and again, don’t choose to have a person stand between us and fire.

Flames through the trees

Flames through the trees

With this season’s injuries and deaths of Forest Service firefighters, the loss of 7 million acres—and counting—in the western United States, we all need to assess our part in these disasters. Beyond addressing human caused climate change, what else can we do to minimize the destructive force of wildfire?

When the fire bear comes over the mountain

When the fire bear comes over the mountain

When wildfire eats toward us, we take what’s most important: the living critters we’re responsible for and each other. The house and landscape? That’s just stuff.

What matters

What matters most

Where there’s smoke… by Janine Donoho

Coming over the hills

Coming over the hills

Not a thing of beauty

Not a thing of beauty

We had a week—a level 3 evacuation due to wildfire pushed by strong south winds. Level 3 means danger currently affects your area or is imminent, and you need to leave immediately. As fire lines closed in on our Hardy Board home with its metal roof and defensible space, we hit the road. No house is worth a soft body standing between you and the inferno.

Air drop within reach of our home

Air drop within reach of our home

Undone by kindness, first at Osoyoos Lake Veteran’s Memorial Park, where they offered overnight space for our trailer and truck in a day use area, then the next day, when Atkins Harvest Foods responded with baked goods for distribution to fire fighters—gratis. We distributed goodies to BLM, DNR, and Forest Service crews along with local contractors, then took what was left to our local high school, the 9 Mile Fire incident headquarters.

Too close

Too close

At this point, 4675 acres have burned with two homes lost, 30+ buildings destroyed, and the fire’s 50% contained with too many hotspots to count. With parched sagebrush steppe and Ponderosa forest communities untouched, there’s still plenty of fuel to act as tinder for ongoing high winds, lightning strikes, and stupid/malicious humans. The latter ignited this conflagration.

So, on-on.

What does firewise mean to you? Have you changed your landscape to minimize wildfire damage?

Line of approaching flame

Line of approaching flame

Fire line within reach of home

Fire line within reach of home

Our burning Wildlife Sanctuary

Our burning Wildlife Sanctuary

A forest lost

A forest lost

Pines burning from the inside out

Pines burning from the inside out

Stunned wildlife take refuge wherever they can

Stunned wildlife take refuge wherever they can

Wildfire in context

Wildfire in context

Gone Missing by Janine M. Donoho


You may find it astonishing that a person can go missing from the electron cloud that defines our world. Especially to those in such forward-thinking nations as Malaysia and Nigeria, where most commerce occurs on smart phones, this seems far-fetched.

However here in the United States of America, we enjoy spotty coverage at best. And when a monster wildfire like Carlson Complex melts the few fiber optics supplying this rural area, well, some of us disappear—or at least temporarily plummet from the vibrating electrons that generate the cloud.

Frankly, when measured against the loss of 300 homes, 250,000+ acres of living earth and incalculable numbers of dead and maimed critters, both wild and domestic, this proves an infinitesimal concern.

So allow me to direct you to a storyboard of summer in the Okanogan desert of Washington state. Let the photos serve as chronicle.

Now before the next supercell of thunderstorms rolls in, I’m off to finish my edit of SOUNDINGS, Water Elemental.

Smoke in the Valley by Janine M. Donoho

Yes, we really can see Canada from our porch…

We’re beyond dry in our high desert and enjoying the dog days. Have been playing with the cover for SOUNDINGS even as smoke from the Okanogan and Wenatchee Complex fires fills the valley, spilling over into our Highlands. Simply cannot express my appreciation for the firefighters who pit their all-too-mortal bodies against these flames. Thank you will never be enough for what you do.

The last of our porch garden.

Naming Names by Janine M. Donoho

The map is not the territory. This quote by scientist-philosopher Alfred Korzybski haunts me. While he intended it to clarify the difference between object and representation, I think it’s bigger than that. For me, it also speaks to authenticity and human displays of facade. That this aspect often comes from imposed societal shame has been known to drive me to distraction.

Now for a confession. As a relatively shy person who functions as an introvert with variable social skills, I appreciate and understand the art of camouflage. That means teasing out the authentic, yet less obvious aspects of self. Joy of joys, it also can equate with glorious attire to complement that facet.

Lynn Margulis ciphered this philosophy into confusing names for actual organisms. Along the lines of ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’, can we encapsulate the true nature of anything within a given title? We’re both biologists and writers who crammed nomenclature into our heads. The reasoning? If you’re going to communicate with others, you need to be speaking the same language.

It does seem reasonable to label traits in concrete terms. Many indigenous peoples do so. Of course, given names such as Johnny-sh*ts-while-running, which described a boy with diarrhea, can run afoul of starchy missionaries. For some reason, changing to Johnny-doesn’t-sh*t-while-running failed to help.

While many plants and animals such as Douglas-firs garner names according to who ‘discovers’ them, Interior Salish people called the sugar they harvested from these firs ‘tree-breastmilk’. I tend toward this approach. Also Greek and Latin from which we borrow heavily for scientific classification reflect descriptive specificity. For instance, Leptarrhena pyrolifolia harkens back to Greek leptos for ‘fine’ and arrhen, ‘male’. ‘Pyrola-like leaves’ describe its leathery, bright green foliage. Some call this plant Leatherleaf saxifrage. Beats calling it Fred’s weed, after all.

Connotations and denotations in the English language can help–or play havoc–with naming choices. A few choices fit brilliantly. Could Darth Vader, dark father, be anything other than a villain? Other skillfully tagged scoundrels include Shere Khan, Cruella de Ville, Captain Hook, Sauron, Hannibal Lecter and Voldemort. Oh, and let’s not forget the inimitable Satan. The same can be true for characters of heroic proportions: Luke Skywalker, Gandalf, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, Atticus Finch, Emma, Sherlock Holmes, etc.

So while this writer does not mistake moniker for character, I do try to bring my readers into story with a well-chosen term. Even so, when names come to me, they often surprise me with their richness of meaning. In SOUNDINGS for instance, Margo means pearl, Zoe, life, and Morrissey, choice of the sea. Since this novel of my ELEMENTALs ties into water, these labels take on deeper significance. In WILDFIRE Althea, Thea for short, means ‘healer’. This works, too, when she’s confronted with Bramden Youngwolf Hayes, my wounded Fisher King. Then in CALLING DOWN THE WIND, Rue, whose mother regrets her birth, turns the name on its head by becoming an altogether different woman than the label predicts.

So naming matters, even as we remind ourselves not to confuse it with true essence.

The New Day by Janine M. Donoho

Okay, I considered ‘going rogue’. Unfortunately, that phrase has taken on an abysmal political stench even as Urban Dictionary defines it as a sexual act. Then there was the option to ‘shoot the moon’ or ‘go commando’, each featuring unintended connotations and neither quite right. You may be glad to know I never contemplated going postal, since we all know how that ends. So now I’ve decided in a purely creative way to run with scissors.

Call me Ella Disenchanted. I’ve tried to play nice. My efforts to forge ties with agents and editors at expensive venues exhaust me. Conferences cost too much as do obligatory lodgings and transport there. Besides, I often feel like an outsider. Then there’s the process of submitting work from afar. Postage for multiple mailings puts serious dents in grocery money.

So here I sit, mass quantities of ‘how to’s’ on every aspect of publishing crammed into my head. I’ve queried my little heart out, then published two novels with a tiny literary publisher. Together we built lovely and substantial books. The unexpected gift of designing my own covers fell to me. Yet the company’s distribution flat-lined at nonexistent. My attempts to expand on that? Well, allow me to express how uncomfortable I felt as primary in all aspects of this endeavor.

Now for some insight into this writer: What I yearn for are readers. They makeup that temporary herd with whom I want to run. However without dispersal, it doesn’t matter how many awards your stories win, you still lack readers. Obstinate pursuit of the wily reader is one thing. Going around gatekeepers to find them? That’s quite another.

Remember the Luddites? They were a group of lacemakers in England who faced new technology. Their answer? They combined forces to tear down the machinery against which they could no longer compete. Guess who won?

Thus I’m embracing the grand e-cloud of tech. Launching two previously published novels, WILDFIRE and CALLING DOWN THE WIND, you’ll now find my work available for download. I’m starting with Amazon’s KINDLE, then possibly SMASHWORD with distribution to iPad, Nook, etc.

Since one of my favorite reading periods occurred when paperback books cost what straight black coffee from Starbucks does now, I’m pricing my downloads that way. After all, expense should not stand between me and my reading herd. Thus flip-flops, certain Apps, and too many non-nutritious fast foods cost the same as a download. I believe my novels offer more value. Yes, your Grande and Venti chai latte or espresso sets you back more. However, you could choose both a great read and a hot cuppa.

 My only caveat? If readers want new content, they must show me the love and download. For a limited time, you can do so through the KINDLE Owners Lending Library.

So celebrate my independence with me by visiting my site or Amazon.com to download my stories. If this experiment works, you can look forward to my high fantasy MISTBORN CHRONICLES along with more ELEMENTALs.

Soundings, Water Elemental

LaunchFebruary 27th, 2015
The big day is here.

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