These days feel dangerous. Not just because our President tweets we are “locked and ready” to start a nuclear war, which may or may not be smoke and mirrors, but also because of all the fires surrounding our valley. The other dark morning, sitting at our computers, we heard a low rumble of thunder, and read breaking news a short time later that lightning had sparked a fire one mile from our house. A helicopter and three different fire stations jumped on it immediately, as they do now with the smallest of sparks. The town of Seeley Lake, 80 miles south, one mountain chain over, has been on pre-evacuation notice for over a week, with the Rice Ridge fire on the edge of town, still only 10% contained and over 10,000 acres in size. Two days ago, the health department said the air quality was so hazardous that everybody in that town should move out, if they possibly could, especially at night time when the smoke settles down on their sleepy heads. Eureka residents, 80 miles northwest of us, were awakened at 5 a.m. by emergency personnel knocking on their doors, telling them to immediately evacuate as the Gilbralter Ridge fire began breathing down their necks. Lightning strikes in Glacier National Park started 150 fires last night, with three big ones closing major trails and evacuations of the back country. The thunder we heard at bedtime last night resulted in a 27 acre fire, 14 miles south of us, just off our own highway, with Super Scooper airplanes getting water from the lake. And, 500 people lined the road to Missoula’s airport, as a motorcade passed by, carrying the body of a 19-year-old firefighter, for the plane ride back home to California.
When I awaken, I sniff for the smell of smoke in our Air Quality Alert zone. The sprinklers are going as far as they can reach. Mornings have been dead calm, in that eerie way they are when it feels like the eye of a storm. They are predicting that the high pressure ridge off the Pacific coast is finally, after six long weeks, beginning to break up, ushering in a cold front. The forecast discussion this morning tells us the good news is that our stagnant, smokey air will be pushed out, but the bad news is lightning and winds will start new fires and bring to life the old ones, and produce tall smoke plumes, towering in the sky over the week-end.
So, who knows what lies ahead, and what to do with this anxiety. David Whyte writes that we “must inhabit our vulnerability”, and if the knot in my gut is any indication, I’m inhabiting it just fine, though, most definitely, not in whatever way he meant. My yoga instructor said this morning, just follow the breath, in and then out, over, and over, and over. I did that, accompanied each time with the thought that this air is terrible for my body. The old man at Goodwill, who took my big garbage bag of clothes out of the back of the car, commented about today’s heavy smoke, and said, “well, what are you going to do?” What I did was to waste a lot of time this afternoon, looking for airbnb rentals on the coast of Oregon, just in case our incoming guests want to abandon ship, and want me to come with them. And, I spent a chunk of time catching up on Simon’s Cat videos. Mary Oliver entreats us, “what will you do with your one wild and precious life”. I’m certain she didn’t mean watching cat videos. Well, tomorrow’s another day.