Shortly after noon today, I looked up. Straight up. Staring at the sun. This is what I saw.
It looks pretty, but it is far from pleasant. The glowing orb in the center of the picture is the sun. As for the grey matter, those are not clouds. That is smoke, ashy remnants of burnt wood and brush.
For those of you who are unaware, the Inland Empire has been inundated by an onslaught of wildfires. Lightning strikes. Downed power-lines from high winds. Errant cigarettes tossed from car windows. Campfires not properly extinguished. Even some arson. This summer season has kept Forrest Service and Land Management crews busy and worn thin.
The Spokane/Coeur d'Alene area is surrounded by fire. Five major fires between Lewiston and Missoula and another between Lewiston and Walla Walla. A collection burning north of Kellogg and southeast of Sandpoint. One on the Washington side of the state line west of Sandpoint and one near the Canadian border north of Bonner's Ferry. Fires in or near both the Colville and Spokane Native Reservations. And the northern forests are ablaze from Okanogan to Lake Chelan to the North Cascades.
With fire comes smoke. It has been hazy for most of the past couple weeks, displayed in devilish red sunrises and an amber glow causing a preternaturally early dusk. While my throat has felt the impact of ashen particles in the air for a few days, today is the first where the air outside smells as if chain-smokers ruled the world.
I love a controlled campfire; the dancing flames are hypnotic and calming. I crave good barbecue - few things in the world rival the sweet mesquite and hickory aromas and the scent of grilled meats. And the smell of a lone wood stove burning in those first few crisp and chilly days of autumn flood me with a sense of warmth and nostalgia for days long gone.
But this burdensome odor of everything burning is disgusting. The smoke filtered light casting a jaundiced hue on every available surface is disconcerting.
We know that fires can be healthy for the forest. But it can be costly for property owners and insurance companies. It can also be deadly; this week we saw the lives of three firefighters perish near Twisp.
We need a break. We need it now. We need rain. We need hoodie weather. We need winter.