Monday, June 12, 2023

Under a Yellow Sky

We knew it was coming. We had plenty of warning.

Wildfires are burning in Canada. Not just in forests, but in large areas of monocrop forests planted to provide carbon offsets - essentially sin-eater forests, grown to absolve others of their environmental sins in places where old mixed forests once grew. Where there's fire, there's smoke, and plenty of it. And some of that smoke was heading for the northeastern United States. For us.

I first noticed it early last Tuesday morning as I drove home from my day in the office. The just-past-full Moon had risen and was hanging low in the southeastern sky, shining through the clouds as a deep red egg the color of a dying ember. It shouldn't look like that, I thought. That's the smoke.

The next day I met a friend for lunch, the first time we had seen each other since November. Since before my mom died. We had a good lunch, but in a surprisingly short time I began to feel uncomfortable about leaving the cats alone in the house. We finished up and headed out to our cars. At that point it was obvious that something had changed. The air smelled of smoke. A haze hung in the air, dimming the nearby mountains, obscuring the distant walls of the Wyoming Valley. After we made our goodbyes, I decided to stop at the cemetery on the way home. Now the smell of smoke was even stronger.

I don't remember if the coughing started Tuesday or if that was later. I know that when I woke on Wednesday the sunlight coming in the windows was somewhere between pale amber and lemon - it reminded me of times I would wear yellow swim goggles to look at the outside world. Pictures of the sky began pouring in, locally and from places like New York City. Some pundits compared the view to images coming back from Mars, but I noted that the color tones were more similar to footage from the surface of Venus.

I didn't get any photos of the sky, but there are plenty out there - look up the yellow sky in the northeastern U.S. on June 7, 2023.

I actually didn't want to go outside at all, but Wednesday is garbage night, and I had to get the garbage to the curb. As others had suggested, I strapped on a mask before I ventured outside. It allowed me to breathe relatively comfortably. Still, I had coughing spells throughout the rest of the day. The Air Quality Index locally came in at 389, where 200 is considered dangerous.

The skies and air cleared a bit on Thursday, and even more so Friday and Saturday, but the smoke is still present, as is my cough. Conditions can worsen at any point. The fires in Canada are expected to last at least through September.