Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

On Tuesday I got out of my car at the Vancouver Clinic and saw my shadow!

I won’t say I recoiled in surprise at the appearance of this apparition, but I did briefly wish I could get Wendy Darling to sew the elusive two-dimensional wraith to my shoes, like she did for Peter Pan. It had been quite some while since I had seen the damn thing.

Of course, here in the Pacific Northwest long stretches of shadowless existence are not uncommon. In the rainy season we can go for weeks on end without casting much of an umbra on the ground. But this was different. For most of a week, we have been enveloped in a miasma of smoke so thick you could cut slices of it with a machete and hang them in your smokehouse to cure your Oregon salmon.

The state of the atmosphere is measured in something called the AQI, the Air Quality Index. It goes like this:

0-50: Green – Good
51-100: Yellow – Moderate
101-150: Orange – USG*
151-200: Red – Unhealthy
201-300: Purple – Very Unhealthy
301-500: Maroon – Hazardous

*Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. Like Asthmatics.

The entire state of Oregon and most of Washington has been registering numbers in the red and maroon for many days now. The bad air reaches all the way north to Vancouver (bee see, not dubya ay), which has been in the red range. There have been days when the AQI has literally gone off the charts. Obviously we are going to need a new color in these days of climate change. How about this:

500-∞: Ultraviolet – SBI*

*Stop Breathing Immediately

Unfortunately, seeing my shadow was a harbinger of neither six more weeks of winter nor an early Spring. It seems to have meant at least four more days of smoke. It meant at least four more days of chunk-style air. It is now Thursday, and here are the numbers at 2:30 PM for major Oregon cities, and Vancouver, where we live:

Portland: 345
Vancouver: 355 (It has been as high as 750.)
Salem: 338
Eugene: 394
Medford: 296
Bend: 447
Klamath Falls: 254

The smoke has reached New York City and Washington, D.C., and has noticeably affected the air quality in Europe. I guess this is a present to you who live on the East Coast from the folks in Sunny California, Scenic Oregon, and Evergreen Washington. No need to thank us. We will probably be giving you the same gift around this time next year!

Luckily, Our President For Life (he keeps suggesting a third term, which means he intends to win a second one, by any means necessary) knows just how to fix the problem. All we need is a lot of rakes and some chainsaws! If we just sweep up all the dead leaves and underbrush in the millions and millions of acres of woodland, poof! The fires will just go away.

Here in Vancouver we have big blue bins for “yard debris.” The city picks them up every other week. I’m seeing a blue bin about one mile wide and deep and tall. That should be a good start, anyway.

Trump has made a point of excoriating the West for failing to keep the forest debris-free, like Finland (a statement which baffled the Finns).

But wait. Where are all these fires happening? Well, it turns out the great majority of them are burning on … wait for it … Federal land! The feds are by far the largest landowners west of the Rockies. And why are those lands so flammable these days? Two things. One is a hundred years of Smoky the fucking Bear urging us to put out all fires, when healthy forests require a fire now and then. And the other is, guess what? The Trump Administration, which for four years has been cutting the Forest Service budgets, especially for fire prevention and firefighting.

Does any of that surprise you? If it does, then you haven’t been paying attention, and deserve whatever you get.

September 17, 2020
Vancouver, WA