Caitlin  |  She/Her

Something is On Fire

New York, NY
Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests
Mediterranean Forests, Woodlands, and Scrub

Session 11: June 19, 2023

Something is on fire. 

I shuffle down a hot, narrow hallway on the fourth floor of Sardi’s, a restaurant in the heart of New York City’s theater district. The 2023 Drama Desk Awards have just concluded and a hundred of us are crammed into a dimly lit stairwell, bumping shoulders and hips as we make our way downstairs.

When we arrive to the first floor, a breeze rushes in through the front door smelling like charcoal. I inhale sharply a few times. “What is that?,” my friend asks, sort of lightly concerned. “Something burning in the kitchen?” Over the ten years that I’ve lived in New York, I’ve learned to expect emergency. This is Times Square. This is 2023. My body knows within seconds that something isn’t right, but no one else seems alarmed. It’s only Liza Minelli who looks out at me from the frame of her portrait like: “What’s the move, girl?”

Instinctively, I throw on my mask. I pull two more crumpled KN95s out of my bag and shove them at my friend and his uncle. “Put them on.” I insist. “Now.” They’re not sure, but they can see I’m starting to panic, so they slide them on as we rush east toward the Hudson Theatre (The award ceremony ran late, and we’re worried we won’t make curtain for A Doll’s House).

On 44th street, I’m desperately searching for clues. My phone is taking twelve million years to turn on and meanwhile, everyone is going about their business, which makes me feel worse, not better. The sky is orange. “What’s happening?” I ask a woman holding her daughter’s hand outside McDonald’s. “Wildfire.” And then she’s gone, and a tide of tourists hustles me across Broadway. I’m stepping over potholes and dodging traffic and now my phone is finally on, and a CBS headline confirms “Canadian wildfires reach New York” and I realize I didn’t watch the news that day because I was too busy doing my hair for the awards ceremony and is anyone else feeling what I’m feeling?

In the past month since the wildfire smoke first arrived (and stayed and then left and then returned and returned), this is the thing I keep thinking about: The strange knowing I experienced before I understood what was happening. I knew it was climate before I knew it was wildfire. And having thought about this for a few weeks now, I’m sure I owe that knowing to the climate stories I’ve had the privilege of reading and listening to.

In the context of environmental storytelling, I get asked a lot about hope. What about hope? I spend too much time thinking about the responsibility of hope and worrying about how much hope to include or not include in my own work. These days, I am reassured by a line in Andrea Gibson’s Take Me With You: “Even when the truth isn’t hopeful, the telling of it is.”

I owe the instinct I felt on June 6th to Donna Haraway, Amitav Ghosh, and Bayo Akomolafe. To Miranda and Robert and Geoff. To Jacob and Helene and the storytellers on this project. To the journalists and the scientists and the friends and activists who have offered their stories up for others to hear and be transformed by. Thank you for your truth telling. Your parables, warnings, and wisdom are my protection.

Caitlin is an actor, director, and producer who lives in NYC. She makes experimental performance that is highly physical, collaborative, and poetic. Her practice is rooted in joy, embodied research, and (com)post-activism. She is committed to telling stories by/about/with women, the peoples and places from which she originates, and the more-than-human.