Brian Mittge Commentary: Summer Thoughts on Fire, Water and Love


My wife and I were on our way home from Tenino, celebrating our wedding anniversary with a kayak trip to Offut Lake, when we noticed a plume of smoke on the horizon.

Billowing smoke in late August is never a good thing. At best it’s an ill-advised backyard brush pile. At worst it’s a house, car or a field ablaze.

As we rounded the corner on Old Highway 99 west toward the freeway, we could tell that the smoke was coming from the Grand Mound area. I wanted to drive over that way to look around. It’s the unreformed reporter in me. I follow my nose.

Sarah, who is more thoughtful about the impact of our actions on others than her nosy husband, implored me to just get on the freeway and drive home.

It was our 21st wedding anniversary and over two decades I’ve learned to listen to the wisdom of my wife, so I turned south onto the on-ramp. Shortly afterward, the freeway was closed in both directions. Drivers were having a hard time seeing through the smoke. Authorities also had concerns about how close the fire was getting to flammable liquids nearby (as Sarah noted to me at the time I wanted to go rubbernecking, there are gas stations near where the fire was burning).

The freeway was closed for five hours, 13 acres burned and fire investigators said they considered the fire suspicious.

Perhaps not coincidentally, north Centralia had its own grass fires over the next week. A 39-year-old man was arrested and charged with second-degree arson a few days after the Grand Mound fire.

It made me wonder if it’s time to resurrect a practice from the past. Native Americans in the region would burn the prairies regularly. Back then the goal was to keep the grasslands clear of trees and able to produce camas flowers (with their little edible bulbs). Today, the biggest benefit could be fire hazard reduction.

With fire in the news, I also noticed a story about water. Offut Lake, where my bride and I had celebrated our anniversary, is choked with algae and aquatic weeds. That’s according to some neighbors there, who want to create a lake management district to tax themselves for study and treatment of the lake.

It’s heartbreaking to see lakes choked with invasive weeds. It’s hard to keep them out — the tiniest bit of leaf can come in on a boat and once established, turn a once clear lake into something very different. Pollutants can feed algae blooms.

The landowners pushing for a taxing district say “the amount of uncontrolled growth of aquatic vegetation in Offut Lake has created an environment where it is increasingly difficult, and in some cases, impossible for residents and visitors to enjoy the benefits usually enjoyed by lake residents.”

County commissioners, meanwhile, are understandably concerned with cost and effectiveness as they try to keep up with wily invasive weeds and out-of-control algae blooms.

“If I've got to err on the side of one or the other, I'm going to take my chances with a more natural process than with a reactionary engineered process, chasing that tail,” said Thurston County Commissioner Tye Menser.

Again, as with fire on the nearby prairies, it’s a question of active or passive management.

Those are practical and perhaps political questions. However, these stories of fire and water got me thinking about a personal question for those of us in married relationships.

A family is an ecosystem, an intricate web of promises and memories, struggles and successes.

Sometimes fires break out. Sometimes the beautiful deep pools of a relationship get clouded with weeds or poisoned with toxic growths.

The vows we take are for life, for better or worse. Like the landscape around us, we can’t walk away from the prairies and lakes where we live.

We need to maintain what we value when it comes to relationships. There’s no passive management of a marriage.

When problems arise, it means talking through them with respect.

It also means daily maintenance. That can be a walk down the road together after work, a day trip to a local lake, or just sitting together on the coach with the TV off and the conversation on.

Give grace. Practice forgiveness. Be grateful for each other.

Marriage matters. Protect it, support it and manage it for tomorrow so that it stays healthy.

Don’t let the wildfires and weeds of the heart overtake this most precious of everyday miracles.


Brian Mittge can be reached at