Who Loves the Sun?

Photo Credit: Tracy Calogheros

Who Loves the Sun?

👤Matt J. Simmons 🕔Sep 10, 2018

I’ve got this song stuck in my head: The Velvet Underground’s “Who Loves the Sun”. Lou Reed, crooning about heartbreak, asks, “Who loves the sun / Who cares that it makes plants grow”. And in the refrain asks again in sweet harmony, then answers: “Not everyone”. Sure, without that big yellow ball of fire in the sky, none of us would exist. But sometimes fire is what we least desire.

Whoops. What’s that sound? Ah yes. The big hot elephant just tromped through the room. How can I ignore it? Drought, fire, smoke. Uncertainty. Anxiety.

The skies went dark this summer, like the one before it, and everything glowed in the otherworldly light that is the sun trying to find its way through the hazy skies of a province on fire. An awesome spectacle, if apocalyptic.  

I struggle with the guilt of finding beauty in destruction. Many years ago, gawking at the first forest fire I’d ever seen, I was immediately struck by how stunning it was. That strangely compelling quality of light, filtered by smoke, the dancing distant embers flicking  firefly contrast into the sky, the flames themselves hot and sensuous. I wondered if my reactions were a product of our society’s increased detachment from the natural world. Shouldn’t these sights, smells, and sounds trigger abject terror? You know, a healthy urge to flee? Instead, the warm glow of a world on fire simply made me want to create. I craved a camera, a paintbrush, a notebook and a pen.  Is this reaction something to be ashamed of? Or maybe humans hardwired to react in certain ways to certain colours. The gentle orange and cheerful  yellow a relief from the blue-black of night.  

I’ve since been up close to a number of fires, both active and dead. I’ve blackened my hands clambering through a ravaged landscape. And there is beauty there, of course. I still see it (and feel the guilt). But like the best kinds of beauty, it’s complex. Because there is sadness and fear and loss all mixed in with those instinctive reactions to the colours that fire paints on our world. My heart goes out to all those who are having to cope firsthand with this year’s wildfires. And here’s something for us all to think about: the hard part is yet to come. When the fires are finally out and the media has stopped covering the story, the world will become monochrome. Grey and black—ashes and soot—and a dirty white as winter closes in. The aftermath of disaster is often harder than the crisis itself. Rebuilding. Dealing with the residual effects of trauma. For those of us who have been fortunate, let’s reach out this winter and help any way we can—donations, volunteer labour, or even just words of support.

Who loves the sun? Me. I love the sun. I love the colours of new growth and the soft hues of tired light. And as much it scares me, I love the orange skies and the eerie twilight at noon. But right now, I want to write the story of that fire god in the sky who turned his back on Earth for an hour to let our forests go cold.

— Matt J. Simmons