It is impossible to tell at the moment. Whose smoke are we breathing here? The claim is that our local scrap yard fire is “Contained” but it sure as hell is not out. It may smoulder on for a long time and the acrid, cloying stench is gently smothering us. It’s all because the junk yard dog dropped his cigar! Well who knows? We may never learn that and what does it matter. We try to recycle our disposable cars and other metal commodities and some days things just go wrong. Hopefully we learn a little bit and life eventually improves. Meanwhile thick smoke from three US States clot our already permeated sky and we live in a dim world at the moment. I’ll keep my text short and relay my story with repetitive photos of our grey world.
I photographed the ambience of the thick air above our harbour from behind a heap of coal on the shore and realized that not so long ago we burned this stuff and the air was always like this. It was normal. In younger years I chain-smoked cigarettes like a train. I also did a lot of welding with my face in those fumes and often cut up old metal with an ox-acetylene torch, burning through thick layers of old lead-based paint or I’d grind the paint away, with no face mask. I know better now. These days, the simple whiff of a smoker’s clothes in a change room has me gagging. Eeeech! I cannot believe my incredible foolishness. I have come to believe that perhaps anyone who smokes should perhaps be denied medical insurance.They are willfully harming themselves. That in this enlightened age people are stupid enough to deliberately inhale smouldering objects is amazing. Are they among those complaining about our present atmospheric imperfections?
The thought has occurred to me that the present stench and pallor of gloom is what millions endure on a daily basis where they live in industrial areas around the planet. Others know it as the reek of war and death. They also know of thirst, hunger, disease and blasted-out hospitals. We take clean air and water and personal freedoms for granted. Yesterday was the anniversary of 9/11. Surely we can take a moment to consider how quickly our lives can change then savour and participate in maintaining what we privileged few enjoy without considering. We’re still free to vote and free to leave.
On Monday, conditions have not improved. We’re still surrounded by think grey smog with only glimpses of a dull copper orb which is the sun. Our three states to the south of the border are burning up. That’s California, Oregon and Washington in your throat and nose. The eco-gloomers are having a field day with all of this. I’ll admit it is hard to stay objective and look at the big picture, to examine the history of climatic cycles and realize that this is not Armageddon. It just seems like it. My heart goes out to all those who have lost their homes and communities, their sense of security and all the personal illusions and dreams they have held. It is a wake-up call for all of us. All I can wish everyone is someone to love, something good to do, and something to look forward to, while doing no harm. Now I have to shake off the lethargy of my own personal darkness and go do something. And so work progresses on the old camper. Wagons ho!
“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.”
A few days ago in mid-afternoon I was kneeling up on the hot aluminum roof of my newly-acquired old truck camper. I was dolloping out roofing tar to reseal a previous repair. The thick black goo had been used previously so there was no choice but to use it again. I thought of how I must look up there, a Fred on a box and came up with various lines about “hot tin roofs.” They were all rude. The roof wasn’t leaking…yet. Wonderfully it is made of a single sheet of sturdy aluminum. But some preventive measures in the heat and dry of late summer seem in order. It’s almost forty years old; a little TLC is due. It’s small and light, and warm and dry. It has a propane cook stove and a furnace! Good enough. There’s no hot tub but sometimes roughing it is just what you have to do.
One of the popular truck campers is called an “Arctic Fox.” I’m thinking of hanging the name on this old beauty of “Fartic Ox” and putting a little sign on the trailer that says, “Feel free to feed the Sasquatch.” Neighbours have noticed the box and say “I see you’re going camping.” Somehow I’ve never considered sleeping in an RV as camping. Camping, when I was young, involved travelling by canoe and sleeping beneath the overturned hull if it rained. My fantasy was a ‘jungle hammock,’ a military surplus item that came with a roof and mosquito netting all around. I’ve just checked, they’re still available.
Many recreational vehicles now have rooms that pop out, automatic levelling devices, satellite entertainment devices which align themselves to the appropriate signals. By the time all the flip-out items have ceased their whirring, and the generator is purring, there is a fair-sized modern home set up in a commercial “campground” four feet away from someone else’s “wilderness” dream. The cursing begins when all the transformer bits won’t pop back into place so you can go “get away from it all” somewhere else. A diesel pickup truck will easily haul it all at 110 kilometres per hour to re-establish the pitchings a few feet from someone else where you can compare notes. It doesn’t much seem to me like a sensible way of reconnecting with the natural world or of “thinking green.” But…no payments until January!
Almost a week ago it was Labour Day weekend. Already we’ve arrived in late summer and the hottest part of it. The weather forecast is for clear skies and temperatures in the 30s. The sunrise was red from all the smoke in the air from as far away as California. There is a 70,000 acre fire burning in the Yakima area. What a blessed thing to live here on Vancouver Island. We made it through the long weekend without any fires here. Last night the upper winds began to move the smoke back to where it came from and the stars gleamed and twinkled. I often go out for a celestial meditation before bed in an effort to put the day’s concerns into perspective. My little woes against the vastness of the universe puts everything in place.
On a clear night, one can seldom look into any part of the night sky without seeing at least one satellite within a minute. Dull or bright they zing over in all directions unnoticed. For a while last night I could see three at once all on different vectors. There are also all those man-made stars in fixed orbit also known as geosynchronous satellites which sit up there unnoticed to our eye. Those ones must really piss off the astronomer who thinks they’ve discovered an unknown star! They are as pervasive as electrical lines or contrails marring a view of the natural world. It’s a sad essay that so few folks notice them. Today’s check says there are currently 2,666 satellites up there. And we thought the beer cans in the ditch were a problem.
Anyway, folks ensconced around their portable campfire beneath a string of patio lanterns, safely inside their electronic mosquito net-bubble (yes really) watching the ‘Simpsons.’ That we all know who the ‘Simpsons’ are underscores the age we live in. We are as oblivious to the geosynchronous satellites relaying our television signals as we are to lost primal skills like melting spruce gum over an open wood fire so we can patch our home-made canoe. I am well familiar with the “Old School” and the non-romance of doing things like using an outhouse at -40°, or making a bed from spruce boughs. I don’t miss it.
While perusing the latest camping gadgets I can across a small portable cooking stove that burns any “bio fuel.” It also uses the heat to charge a lithium battery which has a USB port to run a small light or charge a mobile phone. So now we live in the age of the electronic campfire. When your rocket stove has started a wildfire, you can call to report it if…there is a geosynchronous satellite in place.
Parts of Oregon have now exploded with wildfire. Cities are threatened with devastation. It seems that half of California is in flames, Washington State is in a critical situation and British Columbia is also adjoined to the crisis as part of the Pacific Northwest. Here we can smell and taste their smoke in the air. With the Covid numbers rising again we are all together in living with a sense of tension. What a year!
I’ve been working on the camper in the cooler part of the morning and then retiring to the shady cool inside the house during the afternoon. About 9am today a thick column of grey/black smoke rose into the azure sky then drifted off in the upper winds. Helicopters with water buckets began passing overhead. I feared the worst. A new bush fire or a serious plane crash could look like that. As it turns out a metal recycling yard, a few miles away at our end of our airport, has caught fire. An online news story had images of heaps of burning crushed cars and a mountain of burning tires. It is the sort of fire which is very hard to extinguish and produces a variety of nasty toxins. Ironically the advertisement immediately following the story shows a young father and son cheerily roasting marshmallows over a crackling campfire.
By evening the wind has shifted in our direction and the tang of burning rubber is heavy in the air. You can see it and taste it. There are no hydrants near the burning scrapyard so all water has to be trucked to the inferno. It’s going to be a long night for those fighting the fire and for those with adjacent properties. It will be a long night for those of us trying to sleep downwind. Damn! I miss having a boat.
“Civilization is a conspiracy. Modern life is the silent compact of comfortable folk to keep up pretences.”