Eva Hilberg By: Eva Hilberg
Post-Doctoral Fellow
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30 Sep 2020 : The Stuff of Nightmares

Last night I dreamt that the Grand Canyon was on fire – the flames were coming over the horizon, rushing through valleys and circling rocks, and I could hear them well before I could see them. An impersonal announcement stated that by now even the areas that used to be cool were on fire, as a few frightened animals ran past trying to escape the blaze. An unearthly orange glow was all around, showing up the ancient profile of the Canyon’s worn ridges, and there seemed to be nowhere left to turn. It was the kind of dream that you are relieved to wake up from, as you do not want to stick around to find out how much worse this will get. So for once the alarm was a welcome distraction and while I got up, I worked on trying to forget these images that are still in the back of my mind even now.

Of course, it was just a dream, and one should not over-interpret these kind of things, but it seemed to combine two fears that loom large in these times that we live in: the persistent fires that threaten to become a new seasonal (uncontainable) feature in many areas of the world, and the staggering fall from grace that the US is currently undergoing. Growing up in Germany in the 80s /90s meant that I probably idealised the US a little too much, was a little too uncritical in my consumption of US TV series, MTV (remember? It was just so cool…), and everything else I could lay my hands on. As a teenager I even managed to talk my parents into letting me live in the US for a year as an exchange student, which was an impressive and also extremely salutary experience in life and travel before everyone had mobile phones or even easily accessible email.

Having spent a year in the middle of nowhere in the US Southwest now gives me at least an idea of the kind of environment in which some of the current debates may make sense. I say ‘may’, because from the vantage point of the Nineties, all of this now would seem entirely unthinkable – the future was still a bit fun then, not the stuff of nightmares, more Back to the Future, less The Walking Dead – the sheer level of disrespect and lies on display now is just too much to contemplate in comparison. In fact, most of the people I still know from back then are fundamentally decent, moral, honest and hardworking, and I simply cannot imagine that they would ever go for the kinds of things that are being endorsed now by the actual President of the United States of America. Borrowing from the motto of the Obamas, I wonder, how can you go so low right after going so high?

One of the things that strikes me about my dream is that the pandemic did not make an appearance in it. Yes, the new rules and many disruptions have left me profoundly tired and sleep-deprived, but have not yet made a dent on my subconscious, it seems. There are currently just too many dangers to pick from, and each one of them can only get worse if things continue as they are going right now. 


Fire with Fire


In the dark orange glow

A firewoman torches

Some shrubs at her feet


Fighting fire with fire

Is the best option

She’s still got


Sure, it’s clever

To answer in kind


But you can see in her eyes

That it was never her job 

To burn things


Until now


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