Don't you just hate it when people live where they want to live?
I mean, who do they think they are?
The Washington Post, in its Wednesday morning story on the wildfires sweeping Southern California, barely veils its wonderment, if not contempt, for people who persist in making free choices about the location of their homes. The writers, Karl Vick and Sonya Geis, can't seem to resist making the unfolding disaster a socio-environmental "teaching moment."
The epic blazes, we learn in the article's lead, are "stoked" not merely by wind, heat and dryness, but by "the human impulse to live just a little farther out."
Yes, it seems that people are still choosing to leave the more densely populated city cores to find cheaper housing and, dare we say it, more room out on - as the Post calls it, "the suburban frontier."
The result, we are reminded, is the dreaded "bedroom community" with its fatal signatures, the "manicured lawn" and nearby "fast-food restaurant."
In noting a second fatality from the fires - a motorist caught in flames near Santa Clarita - we are told that this small city north of Los Angeles "summons the iconic suburban landscape of Steven Spielberg movies, its rows of almost identical freshly built houses snugged as close as possible against the surrounding tinder-dry hills."
The areas burning most fiercely, we are told, are "among the fastest growing in the United States." The Post admits that "the move into these hills is for homes that are more affordable," but, it notes that the result is "bedroom communities that push what ecologists call the 'urban/wildland interface.'"
The Post article quotes a University of California professor and author of a social history of Los Angeles, who informs us that one can drive out some of the mountain passes in Southern California and find "new houses standing next to 50-year-old chaparral. You might as well be building next to leaking gasoline cans."
Well! There's an image - evoking dreadful "new" houses, threatened "frontier" flora and a fuel spill to boot.
Then, to tie it all together, the Post article quotes someone named Ray Rasker of Headwaters Economics, who is involved with "a study showing that 50 to 95 percent of (U.S.) Forest Service firefighting costs went to protect private property" (emphasis added).
Private property! Who knew? Doesn't that just encourage those damn humans? Think of it. They dream of living somewhere "farther out" and somehow they presume in their dreams that some reasonable effort may be made to protect their private property. Why, if this keeps up, people who live on the edge of Washington, D.C.'s sprawling Rock Creek Park will expect firemen to try and save their apartments and houses if a fire breaks out in those lovely woods.
The Post duly chronicles the amazing reaction of these California humans and their importunate dreams. "Yet even huddled in evacuation centers and fast-food restaurants, displaced homeowners declared they would not live anywhere else."
One homeowner whose house was threatened said, "We will stay. We like the community, we like the area. The people are nice." Another property owner, determined to stay and rebuild if necessary, said, "Every place has something: wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes. There's no perfect area of the country to live."
There's no perfect area of the country, but humans given freedom persist in moving, in going, in searching, in making their own little perfection - of home and community - amidst the imperfections somewhere "farther out.". It's the sort of impulse and presumption, if you will, about mutual protection, under which all those pesky German and Scots-Irish people left Philadelphia in their crude wagons back in the mid-1700s to push the "urban/wildland interface" into Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and beyond.
It's heroic, in a way, but it isn't amazing at all.