It’s Saturday. I wake before dawn. The air quality here in Carmichael is hovering around an Air Quality Index of 291 (anything over 300 is considered hazardous). A thick haze anyone could mistake for crisp autumn fog hangs around the ancient redwoods in our backyard. It’s beyond surreal.
With one of the most blistering summers on record (hello 8 days of 110+ in August alone), we here in California have been experiencing life as close to the bowels of hell as I can imagine. Hot air paired with choking smoke that seeps in through the cracks of our 60 year old house. We tape filters to fans and desperately seek HEPA filters for our big gray purifying machines (but good luck since everyone else has the same need). We boil water with fresh herbs and read up on foods for lung health. We languish in the afternoons with our smoke headaches, ever-grogginess, and the subtle asthmatic wheeze my lungs sing to me. We try to get work done but feel as though we’ve unwittingly been drugged most days. We consistently run sprinklers on our half acre just to try and temporarily remove some of the particulate at ground level and provide some relief for the wildlife.
We certainly count ourselves lucky to have a home and safety, though our worries for our outside animals persists. Our horses live outside on 5 acres and while they have run-in sheds, it is uncommon for many folks in our part of Northern California to have fully enclosed barns since it doesn’t snow here. So there they stand out in the haze with very little reprieve from the harshness of it all.
A little later in the day, my brother calls me from Southern Oregon, exhausted from helping friends and strangers alike evacuate their homes, their property, their livestock. He fills me in on what it's like to watch families flee with nothing more than the clothes on their back. I cannot find the words. He confides in me that he's depleted and drained, both physcially and financially. I opt to send him a bit of cash to fill up an old generator to loan to family in desperate need.
Honestly, parts of me can’t believe this is where we are; while the other half thinks this is par for the course of 2020. Apparently it can always get worse.
At the date of this writing, a total of 7,718 fires have burned 3.4 million acres (roughly the size of Connecticut), more than 3% of the state's roughly 100 million acres of land, making 2020 the largest wildfire season recorded in California history, according to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. And 6 of 20 record shattering fires have all occurred within 2020.
The debates over California’s forest (mis)management has been a hot topic (no pun intended) for decades. With a treacherous combination of factors such as devastating bark beetles, ongoing droughts, the introduction of non-native plant species, climate change, and the unwillingness to listen to indigenous voices that have lived and tended this land for centuries, here we are. California is meant to burn to a certain degree; only it is now managed by bureaucrats, lobbyists, and greedy politicians. Those who have very at little stake. Those whose homes would never face the risk being lost.
It's like an old apple sitting by the side of the road--rotten all the way through.
I do not have any advice. My heart is heavy and sad. Each day seems to bring new terror and great birthing pains like no other. My only advice is to allow ourselves the grace to empathize. Sit with the grief and cope with it in any means necessary.
One of my favorite quotes is from Mary Good, LMFTA, @the_splendor_and_travail:
“These unprecedented fires of the west are difficult to metabolize after many months of a reality already hard to take on, and my animal body doesn’t know what to make of dark and smokey skies and I feel scared. And my loves, of course you do.”
Written by Meghan Wright, owner of Figs and Feathers Farm