Summer of smoke and bone

Thu Aug 31, 2023

It seems that there is some sort of natural disaster every year now, which makes it really hard to write an upbeat August post. BC is currently going through a brutal wildfire season, especially in the interior. Even far up in the Northwest Territories, where you’d think it would be chilly all year round, a large wildfire caused the entire city of Yellowknife to be evacuated. Unbelievable.

With family on the verge of being evacuated, it’s been stressful on a personal level. But fortunately, besides from suffering through terrible air quality, no family has lost their homes yet. And with the cooler temperatures and rains of fall approaching, the end is in sight.

What is disappointing and disheartening isn’t even the actual natural disasters - it is the societal response to it. While there are plenty who pitch in to help, there are always bad apples that bob to the surface.

I recently watched the mini-series Five Days at Memorial on Apple TV about what happened at a hospital during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Wow, talk about a fetid mix of corporate mismanagement, zero quality control, looting, racism, wild rumours, miscommunication, no evacuation plan, euthanasia without consent, finger pointing, lawsuits, and total lack of action or accountability from the Bush administration.

It’s a hard watch, but I recommend it, if only as a great real-world example that nothing is black and white - it’s shades of grey all the way down.

In the final month of our West Coast summer, we continued to enjoy marine camping as a way to escape the frenzied crowds, broken reservation systems, and proliferation of said reservation systems. You now need a “day pass” for permission to attend just about every popular lake in the lower mainland.

When camping with friends up in the Pemberton area, we tried to snag day passes for the insanely-popular Joffre Lakes, but couldn’t get any for the weekend. Dear reader, we barely squeezed in on a Monday - a regular working Monday, not even a long-weekend Monday.

It seems like just yesterday (okay, it was about 15 years ago) when I last went hiking up at Joffre Lakes with the lads. It was serene. But 15 years ago, Instagram had just come out. Now, it has seemingly ruined tourism.

Hiking Joffre Lakes in 2023 is a totally different experience. Hordes of tourists rub shoulders with influencers as they all elbow their way to the top in leather jackets and inappropriate footwear. Apparently it was even worse before they introduced the day passes - Ay, caramba!

As far as locals go, I spotted a couple of youngsters fishing - but I’m pretty sure they snuck in without day passes.

I cannot count the number of times we had to wait to cross a bridge because a lady in a yellow and shocking-pink 80s leotard had to strike numerous yoga poses for pictures, or another who had to have her sarong float in the wind just so for the shot. Are we all just living in a giant circus now?

I don’t begrudge anyone travelling and having a good time, but narcissism is simply running rampant in today’s society. Being somewhat of a hermit, I’m sheltered to it, but it’s a slap in the face when you venture into “tourist” areas.

I didn’t think it would be possible to trace a thread from wildfires to tourists, but the article I linked to above has done it for me:

For example, the identifiable victim effect, which explains how people are more likely to sympathize with victims of tragedies when they know who those victims are. Because tourists are often sheltered in hotels and resorts away from local communities, they might (wrongly) think that traveling to a place far from home is an opportunity for consequence-free bad behavior. They underestimate or ignore the effect their actions can have on locals or the economy.

This is a solid theory - tourists don’t interact with locals, even more so in an age when you can use GPS on your phone instead of asking a stranger on the street for directions - and perhaps striking up a serendipitous conversation. Even language barriers used to be an amusing back-and-forth negotiation of meaning between two people. Now you get the Google Translate App shoved into your face so you can interact with… you guessed it - a phone.

I have another theory - perhaps we actually are living in a simulation and there is a serious bug in the code that auto-generates NPCs.

Back at the campsite in late afternoon, I watch as a rented RV pulls into the site next door. A bunch of kids run out. Then a European man sits at the picnic table with a laptop and does his work while the kids are left to their own devices. In the morning, the man and his wife spend four hours doing a comprehensive exercise routine. They sweat a lot, then they leave.

I shake my head, sip my beer, and wonder what kind of vacation this is. Are they real people? Am I a real person?

As for Joffre Lakes, it seems that even the First Nations have had enough and recently closed the entire park so that they can “harvest traditional foods such as berries and medicines, and carry out spiritual ceremonies in privacy”. Seems like it would be a great time to sneak in and enjoy the place. Maybe do some fishing.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all just get along though?

  « Previous: Next: »