As storytellers, part of our job is to make it hard on our characters. “Put them up a tree, and then throw rocks at them,” the conventional wisdom goes. Of course in real life we do our best to avoid such predicaments. What we wish on our characters we don’t wish for ourselves. Still, life being what it is, the unanticipated happens, and suddenly there we are — clinging to a branch, with stones rifling by our heads.
Or, as is our case here in Oregon, the trees are on fire and smoke-choked air is the ammunition. To be clear, I’m luckier than lucky. Given the loss of forest and property to wildfires here in the Northwest, and from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and from way-too-many tragedies in way-too-many places around the globe, my frustrations are microscopic. The fact that I will not get to go backpacking in the high country of the Cascades this year because of the fires is the smallest of small potatoes. The fact that I have the time and wherewithal to even consider it is a sign of immense privilege. Still, at least it’s a reminder of what it feels like to be denied something I value. Hopefully I can use that reminder to help foster empathy for those who truly suffer, and to bring emotional truth to my writing the next time I’ve got a character up a tree.