Last Friday I finished teaching the 4-week intensive class that I do every year before autumn quarter starts. That afternoon I went running for the first time in over a month, thinking it would be the last chance to enjoy the dry weather given that rain was predicted for Saturday – the first rain since May.
However, weather predictions are fickle things. When I woke up Saturday morning the eastern sky was the odd lavender-yellow color that I've come to know, and when I went outside I smelled the all-too-familiar scent of wildfires, stronger than ever. Or maybe I’m just sensitized to it now. The fires have been ongoing since the end of July, with many days when the sun was so obscured by smoke that it looked like the moon and was bright red in color. In the mornings when I drove to the university, I would sometimes find a layer of fine ash covering my car like snow. It was so volatile that I could clear my windshield by simply blowing on it. All day Saturday, the sunlight was so dim that was like the eclipse all over again.
About that smell of wildfires. It’s not a nice, cozy, aromatic campfire smell, as one might think. In fact, it reminds me of the smell of the hospital crematorium at an academic institution where I worked many years ago. They fired it up one day a week, on Thursdays, and the smell wafted all over campus. I’ve been thinking about how to characterize the wildfire smell, and the best I can do is a mix of a smoldering or recently extinguished campfire, an electrical fire, burned hair, scorched soil and rocks, and that hospital crematorium. It’s a medley of burned material, animal, vegetable, and mineral.
The wildfires are a major disaster for those close to them, but for those of us a little farther removed there is a certain bizarre beauty to the yellow-gray clear but overcast skies, the unaccustomed colors of the sun, moon, sunrise, and sunset, the muted orange color of weak sunlight filtering in through a window, and the specks of ashes floating through the fuzzy air. It was a strange summer.
Sunday night the rain finally came. Not a lot, but enough to save trees and plants that were on the verge of dying. This time of transition is the signal that I need to get back to work on the blog.
[Top photo by Gail Gross; the others are mine. It's interesting that my camera sees the red sun as white surrounded by red while my eyes see the whole thing as red.]