I spent hours in the car yesterday traversing state lines through a thick sea of smoke from Canadian wildfires. Every inch of the sky was a smear of hazy grey, the sun completely, totally suffocated. It was ominous. Otherworldly.
At midday when the sun was high overhead, my world was still dark and murky, like a dawn that can’t claw its way through a thick autumn fog. I searched but couldn’t tell where the sun was—there was no warm glow behind the dense, smokey curtain. Just grey, from ground to ceiling, and not the kind welcomed on misty mornings. It was unfamiliar and aggressive, swallowing the tips of windmills and collecting in the fields amongst the trees and livestock. It smelled like warmed plastic.
At dusk the sun caught her breath for a moment. I’ve never seen her look so tired, so worn. She was bright and blood orange, battered and bruised from her fight, and more saturated than any lunar eclipse I’ve ever seen. I watched her bob between pillars of grey, her neon-red rays a final plea to us below. Hold tight. I’ll find you. And then she was gone again, pushed below the horizon by smoky tendrils.
It’s bizarre to experience something so…big? So striking. Something so curious, but so blatantly not right. The day looked like a milky cup of earl grey gone cold, the leaves left to steep too long. City folk went about their day as normal, walking their babies, their windows wide open to welcome the breeze. It was admittedly hard to tell just how bizarre it was between the white picket fences. I spoke with many who thought it was just a strange fog that lingered throughout the day. They pondered the sky, shrugged their shoulders, and remounted their lawnmowers.
But the countryside told a different story entirely. I couldn’t help myself and pulled over into a gas station parking lot that overlooked a field. I held my breath and snapped a few photos of a grove with smoky skirts, but the images hardly reflected what I saw. A dark midday. White and grey. Pervasive, invasive. And smelling of warmed plastic.
I watched the air quality map bruise above my corner of the country. Plum purple, burgundy red, blood orange. The news claimed we had the worst air quality in the world, and today it’s more of the same, if not worse. We’re still in the “very unhealthy” category.
In hindsight, I’m glad I got to wade through the smoke and behold the day’s weirdness. It made me feel small and completely at nature’s whim, all illusions of control dissolved. Breathing became a conscious act that spurred questions about humanity and my place in this world. I watched my son try to make sense of the haze, and witnessed my daughter marvel at the neon sun. Will this all be familiar to them when they’re my age?
I close my eyes and take a deep breath.
Photos: my images