Not If But When

Tammy Brown

All it will take for Central Texas to become the next area engulfed by catastrophic wildfires like those seen in Australia is a dry spring and summer, an errant flame and sustained winds.

Travis County fire officials say the likelihood of such a megafire event is just a matter of time.

recent report released by CoreLogic, an online property data service, ranked Austin fifth among metropolitan areas in the nation most at risk for wildfires. The only others in the country at a greater risk are in California, according to the study.

Austin American Statesman

If you go to the article, you will see a map that shows red all around Austin–the highest risk locations for a devastating wild fire are marked in red, and Bastrop is mostly red.. I am well aware that anytime I leave Little Piney it might be the last time I see it as it is..

Bluebonnets and Big Pines at Little Piney

Environmental Loss and Grief

I wrote this in the Chicago Midway airport on my way home from Cape Cod, a thin curl of land with dunes, ponds, and beech forest between the Atlantic Ocean and Cape Cod Bay. Here where the pilgrims first landed artists, nature lovers, and individuals of all kinds and form a vibrant communities.

I was in Provincetown for the week for a painting workshop. In the summer, “P-town” is overrun with tourists. In January, most businesses are shuttered–at least with brown paper. Following the lead of Peter Hocking, artist and workshop teacher, I was up every morning for a sunrise walk on the beach.


On two evenings, I was lucky enough to see the sunset over the bay. We were greeted by a dramatic sky on our drive in after taking a “wrong” turn. Later in the week, a new friend gave me a tour of Provincetown ending with a spectacular sunset over the dunes.

Sunset on my first day in Provincetown
End of tour sunset

Provincetown People

Most of the restaurants in Provincetown are closed in January, but I found a warm and quirky restaurant called Napi’s just steps from my hotel. As I dined alone each night I heard the locals greeting each other warmly, catching up on their lives and local events, often speaking softly of the restaurants owner, Napi, who passed away in December. On the last night, I sat at the bar facing an eclectic collection of stained glass from around the world. I had fresh Wellfleet oysters for my last meal, incredibly sweet, briny, and delicate. Chatting with two women at the bar, I eventually shared with them some photos of my paintings from the week. One of the women hopped off her stool and whisked me away to meet a gallery owner at a table nearby. He was kind and encouraging in spite of the interruption to his evening. When the other woman grabbed my dinner bill and told the waiter to comp it, I discovered I was chatting with Napi’s sister and his widow.

Our conversation strayed to politics and the environment. I asked the two women about the rising seas encroaching on this special place. Feelings of resignation, grief, and anger settled over us. I thought about the fire threat in Bastrop. For a moment, I imagined Provincetown flooded– water seeping into the brass mail drawers at the old post office, water rising step by step to the double doors of the library, brine turning the Beech forest into a bone yard of white trunks and logs.

Ecological Grief

When we truly face our current environmental losses as well as the future losses already set in motion, we are bound to feel a devastating amount of grief. Many Americans are still in denial, cheering Trump on as he dismantles every bit of progress made toward saving our clean air and water, endangered species, national parks, and irreplaceable forests. We know that denial is one of the stages of grief, but in the case of our earth, we really don’t have time to indulge in it. Somehow we have to strike a balance between grief and hope, honoring our losses while continuing to fight for what can be salvaged.

Front-line workers such as scientists, conservationists, ecologists, and activists are the most vulnerable to burn out and hopelessness. People deeply connected to the natural environment, and first hand victims of catastrophic weather related events are even more deeply affected. Ecopsychologists who study environmental grief emphasis the importance of community support, grieving together, and continuing to take personal action.

How to Process Ecological Grief

Ultimately, grief may engender new purpose in the bereaved. We can fight paralysis and hopelessness by joining in community to grieve and to protect the environment we still have:

Connect with an online community

Read a book

See an ecotherapist for support

Do your part to help the environment

Support activists and environmental causes

Vote for candidates with who support the Green New Deal or have similar plans.


  1. Another wonderful essay tammy! what fabulous photos of the sunsets. I loved hearing more about your visit to province town.

Comments welcome!

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