Since I retired at the end of 2012, and OG and I pulled up stakes and moved to Carmel Valley on the Central Coast of California, we've experienced several significant wildfires. Now, native Westerners are used to the annual cycle of wet and dry seasons, mudslides and fires. I'm not. Fire simply isn't the same kind of concern in the Midwest. Precipitation occurs throughout the year. The terrain is flat, and any fires are relatively easy to extinguish. Here, the same steep mountains, pine forests, and coastal scrub that make for spectacular scenery also make fires extremely difficult to fight.
|Smoke line from our back deck several days ago
|Map of fire 7/30/2016
That seems to be to be the biggest difference between western wildfires and the kind of extreme natural events I grew up with. Tornadoes and blizzards feel finite. They're horrible, then they're done, and you start cleaning up. Huge wildfires can increase in size and ferocity every day for weeks, or even months.
The effect on the psyche is much like being under siege. You try to go about your daily business, but nothing is the same, and reminders are everywhere. The sky is the wrong color; sometimes you can't breathe safely; and the house stinks of smoke. Everyone is stressed all the time, including the wildlife. The firefighters you see everywhere are saviors, but they're also daily reminders of how wrong things are.
|Yes, that really is the sun.
This morning, after another difficult night that ended in a nightmare about a friend dying, I realized this is how far too many people in our world feel every day. Whether they live in crime-ridden neighborhoods in American cities or war zones half-way around the world, they suffer they grinding stress of living under constant threat. It's a testament to the strength of the human spirit that so many keep going, day after day, and still manage to find some pleasure or beauty in life.
It appears likely we have several more weeks of this ahead, but I keep reminding myself to shut up and smile. We could be in Aleppo.