One of my doctors said this week, “Well, summer is over for me with the arrival of the smoke.” She has asthma and is especially sensitive and has cancelled her camping reservations and cycling race entries for the remainder of the season. The local weather forecasters report that fire season has started a good couple of weeks early this year, and the national headlines can’t stop reporting on the western heat and long-term drought. My California family arrives in a few days, and have packed their N95 masks and one of their air purifiers. After last year out there, they are not strangers to what it is like to live through forest fire season, but my grandson has asthma and I am very worried.
It’s not that it’s unexpected. Already, people are throwing out past years as particularly bad ones, and, in truth, it’s rare not to have some days of fire and smoke. But, as Don says, “Those of us who live in northwest Montana are terrified each year about forest fires.” For the first time in the twenty years we’ve lived at the lake, he ordered a pump and hose to access lake water to hose down the roof, in the event we were to lose electricity to our well in a wildfire. (He did confess, however, that this new pump would be useful in case the neighbor’s pond stayed frozen long enough for him to resurface the ice for his winter ice skating!).
It used to be that we could emotionally prepare for fire season, when it came in the middle of August, and kids went back-to-school shopping, and we could count on snow in September to end it all. Now, like Covid, National politics, and the widespread violent upheaval around the world, we’re living through a time in which we don’t know how to prepare. As one of the weather broadcasters said on the local NPR station, “I think it’s hard for us to realize that we’re literally living through conditions that we haven’t experienced before.” It all seems so hard, so uncertain, so frightening.
Early the other evening, sitting in my favorite wicker chair in the shade by the water, with a glass of white wine over ice, I was thinking about my doctor declaring that summer is now over for her. I get it. But, quitting on Summer–that shortest of seasons which is steeped in the best of our childhood memories, and so bittersweet in the nostalgia of innocence and youth and dreams of our future–just felt terribly sad. While I thought about these things, a cool breeze wafted off the water, motorboats hummed out on the lake as they pulled skiers behind them, and all manner of birds flew in and out of bushes, and high overhead on the thermals. Chatpeau lay in the cool green grass at my feet. And, despite the haze, the air was clear enough to see the outline of white clouds. This isn’t so bad I thought. Even in forest fire season, summer can give us lovely moments, here and there, to hold on to.
It’s now High Summer, already past the midpoint. As I went to bed last night, I could no longer see across the lake for the smoke haze. Waking up early this morning, the air quality graph indicates we are just on the edge, hanging in the balance, between healthy and unhealthy for sensitive groups. The NOAA weather forecast continues to suggest that the monsoons from the southwest will likely reach here mid-week, bringing possible drenching rains. As in all things during these uncertain and dangerous times, our charge is to keep Hope alive, sometimes found in the smallest of moments, like a lucky summer evening. Or, like the robins chirping out my kitchen window this morning, before I close up the house and hermetically seal it against heat and smoke build-up.
The Best Time of the Day, by Raymond Carver
Cool summer nights.
Fruit in the bowl.
And your head on my shoulder.
These the happiest moments in the day.
Next to the early morning hours,
of course. And the time
just before lunch.
And the afternoon, and
early evening hours.
But I do love
these summer nights.
Even more, I think,
than those other times.
The work finished for the day.
And no one who can reach us now.