This past week has been brutal. The wildfires in the Gatlinburg area triggered that sense of helplessness and despair I so often find myself in. I grew up just outside Sevier County. I spent most of my childhood and teens frequenting the many tourist attractions of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and the Smoky Mountains. So many of my happiest memories are attached to one place or another there as is the case for most of us who grew up in East Tennessee. I worked 2 seasons at Dollywood after graduating high school and again briefly in ’98 — my favorite job of the many I’ve held. I have a strong attachment to that area.
My heart and soul belong to the Smoky Mountains. As a child, I spent many a summer day swinging on my front porch in the foothills of the Smokies, gazing at those beloved mountains off in the distance. That’s where I learned to meditate, though I had no name for this practice back then. The Smoky Mountains taught me to simply “be” and savor my natural surroundings. It may sound silly to those who have never experienced the “spirit” of a place, but those mountains are truly alive. Still to this day, they take my breath away and fill me with peace whenever I return to them, like a mother nurturing her child.
That’s why these wildfires hurt so much. I’ve cried more tears this week — unstoppable, heartbroken tears as I watched a fiery inferno threaten all that I hold dear. “It could have been much worse.” I keep telling myself that, but it does little to assuage the devastation I feel. The only thing that has helped my sadness at all is seeing communities come together all over the state raising money and donations to help with relief efforts. These acts of kindness restore at least some small measure of faith in humanity to do the “right” thing.
As of writing this:
- The death toll is at 13 people.
- 15,653 acres were affected by the fires.
- “1,000 structures were either damaged or destroyed by the fires.”
- “4,871 people remain without power in Sevier County” as of 8:15 pm last night.
[Source: “Fire death count remains at 13; searches winding down.” WBIR, 2016. 02 Dec. 2016.]
I can’t even imagine the devastation to the wildlife population without immediately falling into a panic and more tears.
The Sevier County community relies on the tourism industry. These fires could have devastating consequences for many people in that area, especially those who lost their homes. At this time, monetary donations would go farther than anything else. Please, consider giving what you can: American Red Cross.