Fighting Fire – and Fear
Here on the plains, late winter is the season for accidental and intentionally started prairie fires. Youngsters who have noticed the horrific bush fires in Australia, and before that the forest fires in California, may now be more anxious about our prairie fires than in previous years. Here's a very old story about fire.
Folk tale: Brave Little Parrot
In India long ago, they say there was a little gray parrot living with many other birds and animals in a beautiful forest. But one dry summer, it happened that lightning set fire to a tall dead tree; from which sparks spread to dry grass; from which the fire spread to drought-dried bushes and trees. Soon, a wall of fire advanced through the forest! All the creatures fled in front of it, hurrying to the safety of the river.
The little gray parrot fled along with them. When she came to the river bank, she jumped into the shallow water and got her feathers all wet. But instead of staying there in safety, she flew back towards the fire! She swooped as low as she dared and shook drops of water onto the flames. Then she flew back to the river, doused her feathers, and did it again. Again. Again.
High above the Earth, the devas were watching from their golden cloud palace. The devas were “the shining ones,” minor spirits of beauty and excellence. They laughed at the parrot. “Look at that! Silly bird! Her little drops can't put out that fire! What a fool!”
But one of the devas felt pity for the parrot. Turning himself into a golden eagle, he flew down from the heavens and tried to warn her. “Save yourself!” he begged. “One bird can't stop a forest fire! Those drops aren't enough. You'll only burn up yourself!”
Parrot didn't listen. “I don't need advice. I need someone to help me! I'm doing what I can.”
The eagle thought of his fellow devas laughing from their safe cloud palace, and his heart filled with shame. He began to weep.
The tears from the eagle's eyes fell in droplets, then in torrents. The soothing rainstorm quenched burning branches. Flames turned to steam. The forest fire went out.
And where those miraculous tears fell, green sprouts appeared. Grass, leaves, new shoots and branches came up through the ashes.
The eagle's teardrops fell on the parrot's singed wings, too. Her feathers grew back, but now they were yellow, green, blue, and red!
The fire was out, life was returning, thanks to the compassionate eagle – and the brave little parrot.
Fred Rogers sometimes quoted advice he got from his mother: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"
The story of the Brave Little Parrot (and the eagle) reminded me of that advice.
When a raging fire threatens our lands and our homes, no single person can fight it alone. In Australia, volunteer fire fighters have joined town fire squads and national guards. Fire fighters from other countries, including the U.S., have gone to help. When forest fires plagued California this past year, companies of fire fighters came from states far away. No one person could do enough to fight a huge fire, but all the helpers working together saved many people, homes, and animals.
“Climate anxiety” affects young people who have learned about the increasing fires, droughts, floods, and rising oceans. Individual people can do constructive things: recycling, saving energy and water, etc. But it will take many people speaking out, to convince corporations and governments to make the major changes we need. One brave parrot alone can't do much, but she can inspire others.
Folktale: based on an ancient Jataka tale from India. Rafe Martin published a version in The Hungry Tigress: Buddhist Myths, Legends and Jataka Tales (Parallax Press, Berkeley California, 1990; Yellow Moon Press, 1999); also as a picture book, The Brave Little Parrot (G.P. Putnam’s, 1998, illustrated by Susan Gaber.)
Facts: Age-appropriate ways to discuss climate change with kids:
Alliance for Climate Education. Free classroom materials (Our Climate Our Future) and on-line training for educators. https://acespace.org