For most of us, wild has generally positive connotations.
We like to be out of civilization and trekking into a wilderness. Being called a "wild thing" made for a popular song. We're more excited to see an animal in the wild than in captivity.
But while a bit of wild is a good thing, too much leaves us exhausted, scared, anxious, uncertain.
That's where the West Coast of the United States is at the moment. Sure, other parts of the country also are suffering from an excess of wild. Oregon (where I live), Washington, and California just have wild to an astonishing degree.
Currently we're suffering through the worst wildfires in memory -- and likely in the entire history of our states. About 40,000 Oregonians have had to leave their homes under a Level 3 "GO NOW" evacuation order. The air quality in Salem, a few miles from my house, is off the chart.
After a week of heavy smoke, I went looking for HVAC filters today. In Salem they've become the new toilet paper, unavailable at the two stores I checked.
Global warming is largely to blame.
Forests are exceptionally dry after an extended drought. Political gridlock, caused in part by repeated walkouts of Republican legislators in Oregon who objected to a climate change bill, preventing a quorum, have stifled attempts to thin trees and create defensible spaces around forest communities.
Our power went out last Monday night.
High winds caused a utility pole to catch fire, leaving electrical wires in the middle of a nearby road. In the Santiam Canyon to the east of Salem, downed power lines caused fires that decimated entire towns. Underground utilities would eliminate that risk.
But our country isn't investing in infrastructure. We've been lavishing money on the military and giving trillions of dollars in tax cuts to giant corporations instead. Of course, by "we" I mean Donald Trump and congressional Republicans.
It feels like nobody sensible is in charge of the United States because that's the truth.
So wild proliferates unchecked far beyond the bounds of what citizens are comfortable with. The COVID crisis is another obvious example. There has been no effective national leadership, just posturing, lies, and false reassurances from the Commander in Chief of Wildness.
Trump adores chaos. He revels in conflict.
This makes him utterly incapable of being the cool, calm, collected leader who could guide us through a pandemic that has caused almost 200,000 deaths in the United States, many or most of them preventable given how much better other comparable countries have dealt with the novel coronavirus.
Then there's the Black Lives Matter movement.
A week doesn't go by, it seems, without another disturbing example of how a person of color has been wrongly killed by police. Here too, national leadership is lacking. Some good things are happening at the state and local level, while Trump focuses on a few protesters who cause trouble rather than the systemic racism that's being protested.
"I can't breathe" is a common denominator that links all three manifestations of excessive wild.
That's what George Floyd said as a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck. Millions of people are enduring wildfire smoke that is unhealthy for everybody, and especially hazardous for those with asthma and other breathing problems. A prime COVID-19 symptom is pneumonia and damaged lungs.
However, there's also a psychological breathlessness afflicting our nation -- the exhausting feeling of climbing a Mount Wild where one steep challenge follows another with little opportunity to rest. Worse, the person who is supposed to be guiding us is clueless about what needs to be done to reach a place of ease.
This is why it is so important that Joe Biden be elected this November. He's the calming anti-wild president that we so sorely need and long for.