We got a bit of a respite from the smoke this morning and now we are anxiously awaiting the predicted rainfall. While the smoke here in our little bowl has been thick and persistent we are fortunate that the fires are not closer. Some here in the State of Jefferson have had to evacuate, others are preparing to do so. Here in town we are relatively safe even if we are gagging on the ashfall.
It’s the new normal for us in the rural West, these smoke-clogged summers, and this year we’ve shared our experience with the millions who live in urban areas like Seattle, Portland, and Denver. Los Angelenos are well-versed in this annual ritual; the city has been spreading its tentacles into the wildlands for decades, more and more contemporary Californios live within shouting distance of wildfire country.
I get depressed when the sky is blotted out by the smoke and everything smells like the inside of a Smokey Joe. I love the high desert twilight and I haven’t seen much of it lately. There are days when Butcher Hill, a mile at best from my homestead, has been almost completely obscured. It’s not just the itchy eyes and scratchy throat and genuine unhealthiness, it’s the feeling of helplessness. I keep hoping for a good stiff breeze and then when one comes it just dumps more smoke into our little nook. Yreka sits in the northeast corner of a broad river valley, butted up against the remnants of a large mountainous complex to the west. The hills act like a trap and hold in the foulness until some significant meteorological event comes along and scours out the basin.
But I ought not to complain. Some folks around here have it way worse. And as a fellow I heard the other day say, “complaining is for those folks in Houston.” Yeah, that disaster makes ours seem paltry. But it is a disaster nonetheless. Life in the West is mostly a mirage. There’s no real water to speak of, except along the Pacific littoral, and even they have issues. Southern California is home to the great hordes but they can’t live there without the gigantic plumbing apparatus that delivers water from the mountains. I remember trying to explain our climate to my Irish cousin: she did not believe that we can go six months without rain. The reason they call it the Emerald Isle is because three days without rain is unusual!
But the skies have opened as I type this and glorious rain is coming down. Whether it will do anything lasting about the smoke is hard to say. With the summer rain there is thunder. With thunder there is lightning, and lightning sets fires. I think they call that a Catch-22. But I intend to enjoy this fresh precipitation as much as I can. At some point later this month the climate will start moving toward the autumnal cooling and the fires will abate somewhat and the smoke will clear. Then we’ll get our lovely clear winter. Sadly, we’ll do it all again next summer.
Stay safe out there. Here’s a little Jo Stafford to make you feel better:
She can really sing, eh?