Here’s something I wrote for Storied Stuff about the west coast fires and smoke. As all the Storied Stuff pieces do, mine was inspired by a treasured object that brings back memories.


            Huge swaths of the West coast are on fire. It’s that time of year in the Pacific Northwest when we are advised not to breathe the smoky air. The sun hides its face and ferries leaving Whidbey Island blow their foghorns over and over so as not to collide with each other in the haze. Stuck inside, I feel like clutching my Smokey Bear teddy bear and going straight to bed. To live in a beautiful place and not be able to go outside seems like a hardship, until I think of those who are battling the fires or trying to save their homes and loved ones from the flames.

            WWSD? What would Smokey do? As a child, I was touched by the story of Smokey, a cub orphaned in a forest fire, so my parents gave me a stuffed Smokey Bear. I’ve kept him to this day. I also kept a U.S. Forest Service coloring book about Smokey, the honorary forest ranger who helps prevent wildfires. “Protect our forest and friends!” Smokey implores. He used to ask children to “never play with matches,” because even small sparks can start wildfires. He still does, but now he adds a modern message, “Watch your campfire, NOT your phone!”

            I’ve internalized his message to protect nature and try to prevent problems before they get out of control. He has deputized each one of us: “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!” And he’ll give you a hug whenever you need it.

Barbara Terao grew up in Northfield, Minnesota, raised a family in Evanston, Illinois, and is now writing a cancer memoir and other nonfiction on Whidbey Island in Washington.


4 thoughts on “Smokey Bear

  1. Betsy Fuchs

    I remember the slogan “Only you can prevent forest fires,” but it was so remote from my life, all our lives in years past when fires were few are far between, or so it seemed to me a life long Chicagoan. Your piece and Smokey the Bear, very sad and very sweet and I wish fervently Smokey could get his message out to all adults and children. Some fires even during these days of climate change fires could be prevented, or at least mitigated. Dearest Barbara stay safe.

  2. pomander2@aol.com

    Barbara, I absolutely love to read all of your writings. I’m thinking of you out west and this horrendous year of fires — 2020. My hope is that you are safe and that the air you are breathing is pure and beautiful.

    I’m remembering our special times at Ragdale. Take care. 🙏😷🙏, Betty

    Sent from my iPhone



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