Weekend Winter

Colorado has many things that define “consistent.” Like the presence of the Rocky Mountains. Or the awfulness of Rockies relief pitchers. Things that stay the same week after week, year after year.

But weather?

If you’ve hung around this corner of the Front Range for the past three weeks, you know what I’m talking about. Mild throughout the work week … maybe cold, maybe warmer, but definitely dry. And then once the weekend arrives: BAM! Snow and ice time.

It’s been regular as a clock. Steady as a metronome. And probably a little frustrating to 1) students hoping for a snow day or 2) anyone hoping for a Saturday that doesn’t involve slip-sliding away.

I know, I know, it’s winter. (My favorite time of year, as it happens.) Snow comes with the territory. But it usually doesn’t come with a punch clock.

Again, if you live here, you get it.

Everyone talks about how their state’s weather is wild. Colorado is the one where you can get all four seasons before lunch. It’s where a meteorologist’s kit includes a dartboard, dice and a voodoo doll of Mother Nature. (Am I right, Mike Nelson?) As the story goes, if your outfit for the day includes a parka AND Birkenstocks, you might just be a Coloradan.

Steady, scheduled weather just doesn’t fit the profile.

It’s not the story we’re used to telling. And that’s always a little unsettling.

We like stories. We’re storytellers by nature, either trying to explain the world we’ve got, remember the world we had or describe the world that could be. Depending on the tools we use, the result may be epic myth, rigorous science, conspiracy theory or the next hit series of blockbuster films. But at some level, it helps us define patterns and discern reasons …or at least, feel like we are.

The trick comes, of course, when we’re trying to impose a pattern rather than discover one. That’s relatively harmless when we’re seeing shapes in clouds. It can be downright marvelous when it leads someone to write an engrossing novel or the next hit song. But it gets more treacherous when a deeply-held story collides with reality and the story wins.

We get comfortable in how we see the world. And when the world argues with us, a lot of us tend to argue back. Better to hold your ground, be consistent, prove you’re right – or is it?

“When events change, I change my mind,” the economist Paul Samuelson once said (later crediting a similar thought to John Maynard Keynes). “What do you do?”

Easy to say, especially from the outside. But it’s harder to do. It requires humility to change your mind in the face of evidence. It requires awareness rather than acceptance, constant questioning rather than confident certainty.

In other words, it takes work. And a willingness to change.

When we can do it, the result is a better story for all of us.

The weekend winters will shift eventually. (Right?) The memory will become another story. As we write our next one, look around with clear eyes and a thoughtful mind. You might find more than you think.

Meanwhile, I’ve got to find a shovel and some ice melt. After all, Saturday will be here before we know it.

The Uninvited Guest

I looked out the window one morning to see Longmont transformed.

White covered the grass, the sidewalk, the driveway – enough to make a Hallmark card, not enough to make a blizzard. It was the sort of landscape that inspired winter thoughts, like “How long til Christmas?” and “Where did I put my snow shovel?”

I smiled. This was what I had been waiting for. This was what I had needed, ever since leaving work the night before, spotting some small specks in the air, and excitedly texting Heather the news: “First Flakes!”

Yes, I’m THAT guy.

I have always loved winter, a childhood preference that was later reinforced by too many years of doing summer Shakespeare in Kansas’s 95-degree heat and 95-percent humidity. And to me, winter has never felt complete without snow. It’s a birthday cake without candles, Star Wars without the Force, a Broncos game without a hint of orange.

Don’t get me wrong. I know it’s cold. I know it’s wet. I know it can test the limits of vertebrae as backs strain to clear sidewalks or free stuck cars. And I certainly know how Colorado’s first few snow storms turn most drivers into either a tortoise or a Tasmanian devil.

But the child in my heart can’t help cheering.

This is snowflakes flying into the windshield as my sisters and I imagined the car making the jump to light speed.

This is the memory of Dad’s Subaru grinding the few short blocks to pick Grandma up for a Christmas Eve visit.

This is seeing every familiar detail covered and obscured – including my bicycle, left on the back porch overnight and now invisible except for the tip of one handle.

And in a way, this is what it means to wait for Christmas.

My Episcopal and Catholic friends like to remind me that this isn’t Christmas yet. This is Advent, the time of waiting, the time of expectation, the time of odd little calendars that hide a daily chocolate. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

For churches, it’s typically a four-week march to the 25th, with each week emphasizing a different trait: hope, love, peace, joy. Warm qualities for a cold time. And like the old Sesame Street song, one of these things is not like the other.

Hope requires work to be more than optimism. Love requires effort to be more than infatuation. Peace – not just the absence of conflict, but the restoration of how things should be – requires a constant reaching out, understanding, cooperation.

These are winter qualities, the candle against the darkness that grows brighter as more light the flame; the warmth that drives back cold as more huddle together. This is the winter.

But joy? Joy is the snow.

Joy is the one that can surprise you, ambush you, change everything you thought you knew. There’s never quite enough warning before the world suddenly looks different. It comes without invitation, jolting you out of the usual routine and into something new.

And if that isn’t a Front Range snap snowstorm, what is?

It’s not always comfortable, true. But it can make you see the world with new eyes. And if that child inside is still awake, it can be an awful lot of fun.

So bring it on, white Christmas and all.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to make sure I’m ready to scrape a few inches of joy off my front walk.

Vote of Confidence

In Colorado, my sister would be a scofflaw.

You’d never guess. I mean, she’s a respectable type, if you leave out the bit about being a Microsoft attorney. She’s got two great kids, she’s a community volunteer, she considers the Colorado Avalanche to be a gift from above, or at least from Quebec.

But if she still lived in Colorado, she’d be at risk of a misdemeanor. Whether her action was a deliberate choice or an innocent impulse, the authorities might decide you can’t be too careful.

After all, those “ballot selfies” are pernicious.

If you haven’t run into them on social media yet, ballot selfies are the latest Election Day trend to come down the pike. With more states going to mail ballots, the cute little “I Voted” sticker is becoming a less common accessory. Instead, folks have begun taking pictures of their completed ballots and posting them online to prove that they’ve done their civic duty. (Despite the name, the ballots themselves have yet to start snapping pictures unless genetic engineering has gotten really spectacular.)

All of this was well and good until the Denver District Attorney’s office and the Colorado Secretary of State began warning voters that Colorado law doesn’t allow you to show your ballot to anyone. Online or otherwise.

As you might guess, the  state is now being sued.

At first, all this seemed a bit amusing to me. I grew up with the idea that my vote is my business and nobody else’s. A bumper sticker or campaign pin might make your sympathies obvious, you might discuss your support or opposition to a particular issue, but putting your ballot out there for all to see seemed a little like sharing your pay stub with the world – unnecessary and maybe even a bit risky.

But the more I thought about it, the odder it seemed. These days, many people wear their politics on their sleeve, as obvious as a Bronco fan dressed head-to-toe in bright orange. Certainly, no one should be compelled to reveal their ballot or have it displayed against their will, but if someone wants to share how they voted, why not?

The official explanation in the states that ban it is to prevent bribery: “I’ll pay you to vote for Councilman Whiplash; you show me proof before cashing in.” But in both Colorado and my sister’s Washington, ballots are mailed to your home, making the restriction almost impossible to enforce, unless there’s a Facebook photo for evidence. (Heck, a husband and wife that fill out their ballots together are technically lawbreakers.)

More to the point, examples of this sort of corruption are vanishingly difficult to find. Now I’ll grant you, this has been a year for seemingly impossible things – Bob Dylan winning a Nobel Prize, the Chicago Cubs going to the World Series, Alexander Hamilton having his spot on the $10 bill saved by a hit Broadway show – but  when you have to stretch and strain to find any cases to justify a restriction that’s been on the books for over a century, the odds of this one seem pretty small. Even if an instance is out there somewhere, if you want to identify and catch the person who’s offering the cash, you’re still going to need more proof than a single picture.

So why not allow it?

Honestly, I’m not sure anymore. It may or may not be wise to share all your political choices with every passerby – but if your ballot is your business, isn’t sharing it your business, too?

Every so often, there are efforts to amend this law. This year, they’ve gained a bit more energy. Perhaps it’s time they succeeded.

I know the state’s reluctant. But at long last, it may be time to bite the ballot.

Primary Importance

Not long ago, an offbeat-science webcomic called “What If?” dealt with the question “What would happen if one tried to funnel Niagara Falls through a straw?”

The answer, naturally, was nothing good. Even if such were physically possible, the author noted – which, naturally, it isn’t – the resulting high-pressure stream would have the power of a small star. “(I)ts heat and light would quickly raise the temperature of the planet, boil away the oceans, and render the whole place uninhabitable,” author Randall Munroe wrote.

In other words, too big a flow plus too small a container equals a big mess. Which is something that any Colorado county clerk’s office should be able to attest to after Super Tuesday.

You’ve seen the news stories. If you went to the caucuses – particularly, in this state, the Democratic ones – you may have experienced it yourself. A voting system built for small, orderly numbers of people was pushed way past its carrying capacity. Some voters got to stand in long lines. Some wound up meeting outdoors due to fire codes. Some waited more than an hour to begin the two-hour long sessions and still wound up turning people away.

The participation, admittedly, was exciting. But for many, it was also infuriating. More than one voter told local media that they couldn’t even find a place to get out of their car and vote – and even on the Democratic side, the eye of the hurricane here, the number of actual participants still added up to about 14 percent of active voters, according to one report.

Is it just me, or is something off about that?

Yes, caucuses have a quaint, traditional feeling to them. Yes, among those who participate, they do allow for a very personal sense of community engagement and discussion. Yes, they’re typically less expensive than a primary election.

But if what you want is for people to be heard – a lot of people, as many people as possible – then caucuses just flat out don’t work.

They don’t work for the chronically ill or disabled who might be able to spend a few minutes at a voting booth or on a mail-in ballot, but not two hours at an evening meeting. (Count my wife Heather among those, by the way.)

They don’t work for late-shift workers who can’t take two hours or more away from their job to caucus and debate.

They don’t work for single parents who can’t find a babysitter. For families without a car who don’t have evening bus service. For a number of people in a number of situations, particularly in groups that could be called “the least of these.”

And when the numbers get too high, they simply don’t work, period.

Simply put, as a means of encouraging democracy, a caucus system is better at leaving people out than inviting them in.

Colorado used to have a primary election. Isn’t it time to revive it?

Sure, it costs more. Sure, you maybe lose that sense of neighborhood debate. But gaining increased access to the ballot box is worth it all. Lines may still be long, but they’re no longer insurmountable. No one has to be left out because of limited circumstances, either their own or the polling place’s.

A caucus may have sounded like a good idea to some in 2003. But I don’t think there can be any doubt about its fitness now. It’s like running a Stanley Steamer in the Indy 500 – simply the wrong vehicle for the job.

Just as at Niagra Falls, we’ve simply come to the last straw.

Run of the Miller

Don’t look now, but the invasion is underway.

Bang on a storm window, and half a dozen visitors may fall from the screen.

Leave a door open just a little too long, and you’ll turn to find 20 of the newcomers in the front hall … or the laundry room … or your office, charging the fluorescent lights.

The silent whir. The soft collisions. The persistence that keeps them coming back more often than robo-calls in election season.

Ladies and gentlemen of Colorado, it’s “miller time.”

Miller moths have been an annoying feature of Colorado springtimes since I was a kid, but every few years they manage to put together a swarm of epic proportions. About 25 years back, for example, they became so numerous that even the cats stopped stalking them.

“They say that to a cat, miller moths are like pizza,” a radio host said at the time. “But if pizza kept falling out every time you pulled down the sun visor on your car, you’d start to get a little sick of it.”

It’s not even anything inherent to the moth itself. One moth in a room is distracting but tolerable. But like potato chips, you never just have one. You get entire flight patterns.

Anything in those quantities, even things we would normally welcome, starts to get overwhelming and hard to handle. It could be an army of puppies. A cacophony of radio stations. A torrent of water …

Ah, I saw some of you nodding with that last one.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I love a good rainfall. I like to claim that it’s in the blood – Mom’s family came here from England, after all, and my sister even lives near the famously soggy skies of Seattle. So when the Colorado landscape turned into “Home on the Range” in reverse – where the skies remain cloudy all day – I gave a mental “hallelujah” and settled back to enjoy it. Heat? Sunburn? Ha!

And then it kept coming.

And coming.

And … well, somewhere after the 16th iteration of “coming,” it began to be just a tad overdone. Even more than a tad, as rivers rose and anxieties climbed with them.

Water is one of the most precious and treasured things in Colorado. But in such relentless quantities, it can officially become Too Much, a curse of house painters and construction workers and anyone who just needs a little sun. A good thing, made horrific through excess.

As I write that, I wonder how well we’re paying attention.

After all, we’re Americans. We’re good at excess. We eat big meals, work long hours, and rack up the highest credit-card debt of anywhere in the world. And of course, anytime the Powerball total starts to climb sky-high, our attention climbs with it.

And yet … deep down, I think most of us know better. We know that too much food makes you fat, too much work makes you crazy, too much debt ties you into knots that can take years to untie. That there’s such a thing as “enough.”

Heresy, maybe, in a consumer culture. But true. Someone once suggested that the real definition of “wealthy” is to have enough that you no longer need to worry. Anything more than that just starts to create its own problems, as the celebrities of the world seem determined to prove every day, and twice on Sundays.

I don’t mean to suggest that we have to become monks, to simply swing our lives to a different extreme. But there’s a quiet beauty in balance. One that lets you truly enjoy the pieces of life – and eventually, the peace of life – without being overwhelmed.

I’m still working on it myself. But it’s worth working on.

Right after I get these moths out of the laundry room.

A Mighty Wind

I admit it, I brag pretty shamelessly on Colorado. I’ll talk up the mountains, I’ll cheer on the Broncos, I’ll even fill in a newcomer on our weather’s four seasons – as in 6 a.m., noon, 6 p.m. and midnight. But there’s one area where I have to admit that my “second home state” of Kansas has us beat.

Wind.

I know, Colorado gets gusts. Pretty good ones, too. But Kansas gets wind. The name means “People of the South Wind” and they ain’t kidding. Never mind the tornadoes that sent Dorothy to Oz, it’s the straight-line winds that’ll carry off Auntie Em, Uncle Henry and Toto, too, if you’re not careful. I’m talking about a mass of moving air matched only by the collective filibusters of the United States Senate, with a presidential speechwriter or two thrown in.

That big.

I think about it most at this time of year. March and April are known in Western Kansas as the “blow season,” the time of year when you really didn’t need the shingles on your roof … or the homework in your hands … but you probably did need that dent in your car from the door that blew open next to you. It’s a time when wind can grab a headline all by itself – and just about anything else that isn’t nailed down securely.

Maybe a bit of Kansas blew inside me, too. Because “blow season” remains a time when I can look for my own winds of change. And usually find them.

It was during my first blow season 16 years ago when I became a Kansan, a reporter and a fiancé all in the same week.

It was at that time of year five years ago that I gained my brother-in-law Jay and lost my grandmother-in-law Val on the same day.

Three years ago, the winds carried us to Missy, Heather’s developmentally disabled aunt. We moved in her with that April, became her guardians not long after, and – well, “change” is too small a word for everything that’s happened since. So is “wonderful.”

That’s the thing about wind. It doesn’t let things rest. It upends them, frees them, forces them to move, often in directions no one could predict.

When we notice, it’s mostly the inconvenience; the trash bin that got blown over, say, or the old aspen that was finally born down. It’s human nature. We grumble, even on the rare occasions when we think of the big picture. (Theatrical voiceover: “It was a world without a breeze … without a season … without a hope. Columbia Pictures brings you a Joel Schumacher film. Gone … With The Wind.”)

We need to be stirred up. Even if we’d never admit it.

Granted, that sort of change isn’t limited to March and April, any more than big wind is. But it’s not bad to have a time when it’s in your face, a season when you have to think about it. To be reminded that we only determine so much – and that that can be a good thing.

Good or not, it’s a wind we have to ride.

I’ll try to remember that as the windows rattle and my sinuses scream with the shifting air of our own Colorado gusts. Today’s blast of wind may be tomorrow’s welcome rainstorm.

Or, perhaps, tomorrow’s snowstorm.

After all, this is March on the Front Range. And the next season is due any hour now.

Fuel for the Fire

The battle lines have again been drawn in flame.

We know the drill by now. High wind. High heat. Lots of vegetation, some of it beetle-killed. One spark and Colorado becomes a tinder box, with too many fires and not nearly enough people to fight them.

Homes consumed. Prisoners evacuated. Summer evenings obscured by smoke.

Oh, yes. We know this well. It’s part of our memories, our fears, our DNA.

Even if we did think – hope? Pray? – we might actually dodge the bullet this time.

I know I did.

Sure, winter had been much too dry. But there had been that beautiful snow in April, that wonderful rain in May. The threat of drought had been eased. Not erased – my pleading lawn was testimony to that—but at least, pardon the phrase, damped down.

On Monday, I made the fatal mistake. I told someone that this summer didn’t look too bad. Certainly not as bad as last year.

Some words should never be spoken. By Tuesday, the match had been lit.

The last time Colorado burned, we had presidential contenders cris-crossing the state. I took up a friend’s plea that they all withdraw and give their Colorado advertising money to fire relief, where it would do more good than a thousand finger-pointing ads.

Didn’t happen.

This year, we’re at least spared the indignity of leaders-in-waiting fiddling while home burns. A small comfort, I suppose. Very small.

But then, everything seems pretty small against a wall of flame.

Especially our own efforts.

So often, that’s what keeps coming back to me. What can we do? We all want to stop it. To turn it off. To make it not happen.

And we can’t. That’s in the hands of a few brave men and women, putting everything on the line to save the rest of us.

But we can do two things. Remember. And prepare.

We all have a responsibility to be ready for the next battle.

When I was a kid learning to cut the lawn, Dad drilled me on the three things every mower needs. Fuel. Air. A spark. Take away even one, and you don’t have a lawn mower, you have a lawn ornament.

Wildfire works by the same rules.

Air, we can’t do much about. Colorado winds are what they are, erratic and sudden.

The spark? Common sense can help a bit there. But danger can still leap from the sky in a lightning strike or emerge from the embers of a seemingly-doused fire pit.

But the biggest thing we can do is remove the fuel.

And in the mountains especially, that means firebreaks.

I know. It’s beautiful to have a “hidden home” in the mountains. It’s prettier to have the trees come right to your door. I’ve seen it. I agree, it is nice.

But capricious as fire is, it still needs a path. A tree-shrouded home offers it a six-lane highway.

Clearing a space may not guarantee safety. Neither does wearing a seat belt in a car. But both do a lot to improve the odds. Three years ago, those spaces and a shift in the wind helped spare Gold Hill from yet another wildfire. In aerial photos, it looked like the homes were surrounded by a moat.

That’s what a firebreak is. A moat of dirt. A defense against the next battle.

A way for the militia – all of us – to help the regular defenders.

We’ll endure. We always seem to. The fires will recede, the destruction will end. The smoke will fade.

But the memories and the lessons shouldn’t.

And maybe next year, we can meet the fire season with more than hope.

Signs of the Times

Do you know the way in San Jose? You’d better.

According to Reuters, the Puerto Rican city of 1.4 million is just now installing its first street signs. It’s a $1 million project meant to head off a recurring $720 million problem: undelivered mail.

“My current home address is 200 meters north of the Pizza Hut then 400 meters west, but in a few months, I will be able to give a proper street name and a number,” Mayor Johnny Araya told the news service.

Trust me, Mr. Mayor. They’ll help a lot. But I suspect you’ll be giving directions a long time yet.

I speak from experience.

I have, it may reliably be said, one of the worst senses of direction in the continental United States. Where some people have an internal compass, I have a metronome. (“It’s this way – no, that way – no, this way …”) The one direction I can reliably find is down.

As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time getting directions from people. Nothing against Google Maps, mind you. It’s been a lifesaver, as well as a source of semi-harmless amusement when it sends me half a county away from my real destination. But hey, what’s a couple dozen miles between friends?

But for a true education, there’s nothing like getting directions the way God intended: half-understood over the phone while scribbling madly to get it all down before your pen runs out of ink. Just what those scribbles add up to, of course, depend on the school of thought your erstwhile guide subscribes to.

Historic – I ran into this method a lot in Kansas, where a small town can have a lot of communal experience. The outsider, lacking this background, is probably doomed. “OK, now keep goin’ until you get to where the church burned down in ’07 – no wait, it was ’06 – then hang a left. You’ll want to go three houses past where Jimmy used to have his bike shop ….”

Artistic – My Aunt Carolyn is the living master of this technique, which involves describing every building, cross-street and minor landmark along the chosen route, regardless of whether they indicate a turning point or not. The good news is that if you get lost, a good set of watercolors will let you paint the description and sell it for enough money to hire a cab.

Orienteering – This one seems to be the dominant method in the Colorado communities I’ve known. “So you’ll want to go three-quarters of a mile past 17th, turn right, then after about 200 yards, you’ll want to turn left again …” Alas, for years, I had a Chevy with no “tenths” position on the odometer, reducing all this careful military science to hasty guesswork. “Oh, crap, is it that … no, wait, it’s here … no wait, it was back there …”

Zen – For some people, all directions seem to be one, because they’re either new, clueless, or traumatized from being off the Google. The one constant beyond a shrug is the ability to point inerrantly to the road you just left, refer vaguely to a turn, and give you the Four Most Dangerous Words: “You can’t miss it.”

I suppose I shouldn’t complain. Just like losing your script forces you to learn lines, a directional fog can force you to learn the route. And you can make some interesting discoveries when you go along the road less traveled. Mine include the limits of my patience, the resilience of my blood pressure, and the depth of my religious convictions. (Praying for guidance takes on a very literal meaning when gas and time are low.)

And oh, yes, one thing more: a sense of humor about my limitations. The author Spider Robinson once said there are two kinds of people in this world: those who step on a rake in the dark and swear, and those who do so and laugh. The second tends to make for nicer people and a more comfortable world.

So good luck, San Jose. Enjoy the new signs.

And if you see a driver making random turns in 4/4 time … come on over and say hi, will you?

Brought Fourth in Silence

I’ve never known a quieter Fourth.

No shells bursting in the sky. No firecrackers raising the hackles of our dog. Just a night where the occasional rattle and bang and boom was occasional indeed, brief ripples in a sea of silence.

And yet the stillness rang louder than any skyrocket.

It’s no surprise, of course. This is a summer where many people have seen enough fire in the sky already. With Colorado burning down day after day from wildfires, fireworks had become about as politically popular as renaming Mile High in honor of Al Davis. Maybe less so.

Shhh. This is a No Sparking zone.

Some disagreed, of course. Some always do. And I can understand. Fireworks have been an expected part of the day since John Adams. I have memories of watching the bursts from bat-inhabited golf courses, or tree-obstructed bedroom windows, or even from our own rooftop, the shingles made slippery by a protective hosing down against bottle rockets. (Mind that last step!)

So yeah, it’s a great part of the day.

But it’s only part of it.

Absurdly, my brain began to go back to Christmas, to a Grinch who decided stealing all the presents could steal the holiday with it. Anyone with young children in the house (or our Missy) can recite the results by heart:

 

He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!

Somehow or other, it came just the same!

 

It’s still true. Douse every sparkler, shush every “1812” cannon. The day is still there, the freedom still as real. The symbol isn’t the thing.

And the symbol this year may be more potent than anyone expected.

What’s the day about, really? Not beer and explosives, fun though the combination may be. It’s about a people taking charge of its own future, about men and women and communities doing what they must to secure the day, however little they might like it.

It’s about a general who constantly wanted to come to grips with the British – yet knew his country’s only chance was if he kept his army alive.

It’s about those who risked “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor”in grasping at a dream where failure meant the noose.

It’s about those who could leave family and home, or hold it together while others left, deferring what they wanted in favor of what was needed.

The Fourth of July has never been for wimps. Living the legacy means making tough choices.

And when we make those choices together, for the protection of us all, that’s a brighter light than any skyrocket could create.

There’ll be a day when the fireworks return, a day when smoke and flame can be replaced by “Ooh” and “Aah.” Maybe it’ll be twice as good, with two years of Independence Day budgets saved up. Maybe it’ll be the same show as before, with this year’s spending donated to this year’s fires, a drop in the bucket but a welcome drop all the same.

Whatever comes, the Fourth will come with it. And someday it’ll come with all the bells and whistles and Roman candles anyone could want.

Until then, we wait. Not out of fear. But out of care, out of duty, out of watchfulness for our friends and neighbors.

And even on a silent night, those can be heard loud and clear.

Burning Thoughts

At some point, you’d think there would be nothing left to burn.

If only.

Every week, every day, a new fire seems to start, an old one seems to grow stronger. Names that were places to visit are now battlegrounds. Or staging areas. Or victims.

Who dreamed we would see flame stalk the Air Force Academy? Who imagined fire would draw near to NCAR? Whose worst nightmares assumed this much destruction, this much displacement, this heaven on Earth turned hell?

All right. There were warnings. The dry winter, the rapidly vanishing snowpack, the tinder lying ready and waiting. The TV talking heads bubbling on about how beautiful the weather had been, how nice it was not to be cooped up inside by snow and ice.

They’re on my list.

So yeah, I think some of us at least knew we were in for a bad fire season. But never this.

And it’s only started.

Sometimes I think the worst part, unless you’re actually in the path of the destruction, is the helplessness. Oh, we try. We put up friends, we give to the Red Cross, we volunteer to help the firefighters in every way imaginable.

But it’s not what we really want.

What we want is to turn off the fire. Only a few brave men and women out on the line have that chance.

What we want is to turn off the fire season. And not even those few can make that guarantee.

The rest, however welcome, feels so small sometimes.

And then there’s the bits that aren’t welcome at all.

Every day, it seems we get a choice of two images on television: a shot of Colorado burning, or an ad for people campaigning. It’s even odds which one is less wanted right now.

I know, one of the great things about our country is that we keep going on. Even a civil war couldn’t make us suspend national elections and nothing less is about to do it. That’s all very admirable and fine.

At the same time, to continue a pair of high-dollar ad campaigns declaring “I’m the greatest and he’s a jerk” in a state that’s burning to the ground seems … well, petty.

A friend had an idea. I liked it enough to steal it and share it. And I hope someone, somewhere is listening.

Mr. Romney. President Obama. Suspend your Colorado campaigns for now.

Then take what you would have spent on ads in this state, and donate it to the fire relief.

I know you guys. You don’t spend small, especially in a battleground state. A single week can see a million dollars worth of TV ads here, just from one campaign.

The High Park Fire alone has cost around $33 million to fight so far. That’s not small spending either. And it’s doing a lot more than any finger-pointing ever will.

You can help that.

Think about it. And if the sheer humanity of the act isn’t enough, consider it tactically. If even one of you makes this move, the other will have to follow or else look more heartless than Lord Voldemort and Darth Vader combined. Once both of you do it, there’s no fear of losing an advantage.

And the first one to do it comes off looking really, really good.

OK, there’ll be some cynicism. There always is in an election year. But it’s an action that will do some genuine good. Between that and having some peace on their TV screens, I think most voters will respond warmly.

National office is important. But some priorities rank even higher than that. Please, gentlemen. Show us you understand that.

Battleground state?

You have no idea.