Yesterday we drove to the North Shore of Lake Superior to see the leaves in their final burst of color. It was to be a day gentle day of photography and conversation. Then we saw the smoke. Instead of photos of trees, I shot firefighters.
A half mile ahead there was a rapidly growing dense black cloud. As we turned the bend, we saw why. A semi-truck and some cars had collided and were on fire. The state police had not arrived, but the local fire department was there trying to control the blaze. Soon ambulances came, sirens blaring, accompanied by more fire trucks. We were close to the head of a miles-long line of stopped vehicles in the northbound lane. There was no choice but to stop the car, watch, and reflect on what we were seeing.
The little car at the center of the inferno was quickly reduced to an ashy metal skeleton, barely recognizable as a vehicle. Ambulances came and went, lights flashing. We waited and watched for hours and our talk turned to the topic of impermanence.
You can take a day off work with an old friend for that annual trek up north. His wife's at work and his kids are home preparing for a hunting trip with their uncle. You plan a quiet day in a part of Minnesota where cell phones don't work. You are in control of your mostly happy life and your future. Then you see smoke.
God laughs at our plans. Our day was interrupted and changed. For the families of the occupants of those ambulances, lives may be forever altered, perhaps for generations.
Today, less than 24 hours later, I am starting to feel in control again. What a fool. A look at the photos reminds me of impermanence and my deep need to live in the present moment.