Year 5, Piece Twenty-Five: 13. Orange Purple

Fire and Sky. Drought or Flood.

I drew this card in the Yoga Room at the San Francisco International Airport. Yes, there is a Yoga Room at the San Francisco International Airport. Like many things about the Bay Area, this is something that simultaneously makes me scoff and that I also secretly enjoy.

I was on my way back to my hometown in Michigan for the first time since before the pandemic started. So I had flying on my mind when I drew Orange and Purple, and immediately thought: Fire and Sky. 

Each of the colors in the Rainbow Squared system has an elemental correspondence: Red is Blood, Orange is Fire, Yellow is Sun, Green is Leaves (Earth), Blue is Water, Purple is Sky (Air), and Black White is Light. Hence Orange Purple as Fire and Sky. It made me think of a wild photo my friend Jimmy took last year when he had to hop on a plane to escape the smoke choking his asthmatic lungs:

Last week when I was in the air, the sky was basically the color it should be: white clouds and blue skies. But drawing the Orange Purple card as fires rage all over the United States, I was struck with a pang of fear that perhaps the sky in the Bay Area would turn orange again, that maybe boarding this plane would be escaping that fire.

Then just a couple mornings later, waking up in Michigan, I noticed that the light streaming through the window had a familiar orange cast to it. It was lovely in a way, like the golden hour at dawn and dusk when the sun is low, except this didn’t disappear as the sun continued to rise. I knew immediately to check the air quality index, and sure enough, the AQI was 122: unhealthy for sensitive groups. Still I thought this orange sky must be some by-product of pollution and humidity, that the hot summer air was trapping particulate matter or something. But sure enough, what was turning the sky was orange in Michigan and so many other places was forest fires.  

I know that my sense of color may be more honed than most: some people I talked to about the sky that day said, “The light is orange? Really?” But in the 35 years I have lived in or visited Michigan, I have never seen the sky look like that. Just one among so very many signals that things are not normal. Climate catastrophe is here, has been here, is speeding up. Everywhere. 

I’ve lived in California for nearly 13 years now, and I still have a hard time calling it my permanent home. Not because I don’t feel rooted there; I do, maybe even more so than Michigan where I haven’t lived for longer than a couple months since I was a teenager. There are many special things that tug me back to Michigan, including the fact that most of my blood family is here. But the biggest reason it is hard for me to admit to myself that I might live in California forever is water. It feels kind of, well, ill-advised to leave a region that holds 20% of the world’s fresh surface water for one racked by drought even before the effects of climate change. Michigan has so much fresh water you can even recognize it from outer space, bounded by those Great Lakes. 

And of course Michigan’s relationship with water is fraught. Though there is now a water shut-off moratorium that will hopefully become permanent, the City of Detroit was turning off water for thousands of residents due to nonpayment. And Flint poisoned its citizens with its water supply, a crisis that lingered on as long as it did in a documented act of environmental racism. Though water is a human right, quantity does not guarantee quality or even access depending on who you are. 

The climate crisis impacts different populations differently. Even my question of where it makes sense to live drips with the privilege to be mobile, to even feel like I’d have the option to live anywhere I want. The option to have moved to California in the first place, or to be able to travel back and forth to see my family.

This was the first time I’ve been on a plane since before the pandemic started. I grapple with a good deal of eco-guilt (or, let’s face it, every type of guilt), so there are ways that flying being impossible for a while was actually weirdly comforting. It was another choice I didn’t have to make between seeing my blood family and my principles. The choice between seeing them and expending mass amounts of carbon. That’s part of why it feels so unnatural to live so far away from family. Or perhaps the unnatural thing is to live so far away and still expect to see them often.

Orange and Purple are two of the three secondary colors, the third being Green (as opposed to the primary colors of Red, Yellow, Blue). And indeed, being in Michigan, I am struck by how Green it is. Trees upon trees and bushes and LAWNS, lush leaves everywhere. You can just see the water pumping through the landscape. Green is leaves and it is also family. Michigan is where my blood family is and has been for four generations, after coming over from Eastern Europe. Orange Purple is in some ways a lack of Green, and Michigan is Green thing, a Green place. A place I don’t live.  

I talk a lot about Orange as Creativity and Creating, but Orange is also Gratitude. If Purple is Sky and also Magic, Orange Purple might then be Gratitude for Sky. Gratitude for Sky Magic even, for the technology of air travel (I won’t go into gratitude for the technology of space travel here, because fuck the billionaire space race). It feels like magic that I have the access to hurdle myself through the air in a metal tube and touch down 2500 miles away. I don’t want to be ungrateful for that.

I don’t want to be ungrateful.

I also don’t want to be a party to this devastation.

Even if water is a life force, is life itself, this week is a stark reminder of its destructive force. Michigan itself has been flooded by rain, and look at the horror in Central China or in Western Europe. Choose drought or choose flood, but climate change is here.

Orange Purple is also Creating with Awareness. Up in an airplane looking down at the world, sitting so very close to so many strangers, I thought about what we are creating, together. It isn’t up to each of us, that’s a lie. But maybe it is up to all of us. What we do as our blue green world turns orange.