The other morning as I stepped out of the apartment I thought I smelled burning. Or it could be just the regular byproduct of the area's industrial economy, for we are in a place known for industry's horrible effects on the environment (you know, that place that clear-cuts endangered owls and burns them to make uranium via exploding refineries) --- what little bits of industry are left in this depressed area. I wasn't quite sure what to do --- I mean, my California grad school experience has made me familiar with nearby places going up on fire and me having to evacuate, but is that something I'm going to need to do here or will I not have to worry about it?
I went back inside and checked out the local news sources. Turns out "Fire watch" is a major fixed section of the papers and websites and there are major profiles on the city and rural and national forest firefighter teams; they are kinda a big deal socially here. And of course I mentioned already that there are more wildfire fighting classes than English classes at my cc, yes?
At least two fires were burning out in the wilderness. I had to look up the towns they were nearby because I had never heard of them and wasn't sure where they were. There were also four or so local fires in and around town --- and I am troubled by how many of them were thought to have been set. I am not sure that I like the idea that homeless people or addicts accidentally setting fires and letting them get out of control is a common thing around here. Of course, the idea that arson against people because you simply don't like them or got fired from the place is a logical choice also disturbs me. But I figure, just like how Californians and their building codes are in a good position to make it through earthquakes, The Hot Place is experienced in containing and controlling fires breaking out constantly and not needing to evacuate.
Then the next day I saw a plume of smoke from downtown down by the river. I say river but you should understand that to mean "river," since I am in the West. We don't do those big out here. I didn't figure out which fire that was but nobody seemed alarmed. I have gotten into the habit of checking the Firewatch like in other places we check the weather report. No real need to check the weather reports here --- it's hot! Today we had a "cold snap" and the high was only 85 degrees, which I think everyone can agree is downright lovely for summer. The two solid weeks of 115 were right before I got here, thankfully.
This place sure is strange, though, with the plumes of smoke and shimmering pavement heat. It is not your usual desert ---- the desert I know from childhood has no morning: there is the moment of dawn turning to full day like the lid sliding back on an eye. Then it is already hot and the sun starts to rise like a brass disk into a bowl of lapis lazuli. The sky seems bigger and the clouds much further away than other places, if there are clouds at all. Here, though, we are cradled by hills that cup the city and hold all its pollution --- of which there is much, from the trucking and the aforementioned nuclear owl-burning. Some mornings are clear, but many more are full of a haze that I associate with looking down and across the freeways of Los Angeles. Though the haze does turn the hills into blue figments in the evening, lovely hallucinations of purple and blue and lavender that hover just on the edge of town before disappearing into the dusk. The haze also grants you an hour or two of relative cool in the morning, if you can make sure to get going outside right away. Unfortunately, not everywhere has a good set of running paths, which means my time for going out and doing all my errands is prime run-over-the-joggers time. Oops.
Today on my errands I was having a terrible time getting any of the radio stations to come in clearly, which at first I thought was a problem with my car. Turning up the volume only increased the crackles and white noise and I was confused by what sounded like a weather report. But instead of predicting sunshine or clouds, the announcer kept saying smoke. "Smoke and a high of 95, with a low tonight of 70. Tomorrow, smoke and a high of 97."
What the hell kind of weather designation is that?
Am I to expect brimstone in the forecast too?
you need to write some sort of fabulous essay/novel/story about the desert. The eye image is going to stay with me.
Sounds interesting, to say the least. On the bright side, the firefighters I've taught have been very pleasant students to have -- reasonable, can-do, sort of people. That might, however, differ in an area where I suspect wildland firefighting is one of the better-paid jobs around (in addition to the practical, community-spirited types who are prevalent in my area, I suspect you might get the equivalents of some of my pre-nursing students: those who simply want one of the higher-paying jobs around. One would think the events of this summer -- all the firefighter deaths -- might decrease that trend, but who knows).
The sun rises like that where I live -it is an instant thing- I love it.
When I first moved to Pseudonymless City, they had all kinds of weather designations I had never heard of as an East Coast girl. Enjoy the acculturation :)
You nailed that description of a desert sunrise.
Sadly, one of the common human causes of wildfires are firefighters themselves, the unscrupulous sorts that need money and therefore set them to get it. I remember hearing an academic paper on this about ten years ago, and it blew my mind.
When I lived up in Colorful Cowboy Country, all of the rivers ran all of the time, and you knew that water was ice cold even in summer.
I've been trying to guess where you've landed and every time I think I kind of have an idea, you describe it anew and the whole scene shifts. Good job!!
I echo Anastasia's comment. The desert seems to bring out the poet in you!
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