We do not live in an industrial city. We do not even live in a post-industrial city.
“Currently passing Mordor,” we used to say as we drove past gray cities with smoky steel mills. That was out homage to Peter S. Beagle, who, in I See by My Outfit, his hilarious account of a cross-country motorcycle trip in the ‘60s, dubbed one of the dirty cities on the Great Lakes “Mordor.”
The air quality in our town is usually good. It is a quiet town, not an industrial town, with its major industry “paper work.” The paper backup itself is regrettably gone, except, apparently, for our government’s Top Secret files in Washington.
We never saw the smoke coming. Wildfires in Canada, the wind wafting the smoke our way. The air quality was “unhealthy” today, and the greatest pollutant was PM2.5. This very fine particulate matter is hazardous to breathe, and, according to AirNow, “everyone should take steps to reduce their exposure when particle pollution levels are in this range.”
“Keep your activity low,” AirNow says. I should have stayed indoors, or taken a brisk walk around the block, but that’s not my way. As I bicycled through the smoky, hazy city, wearing a mask to reduce exposure to PM2.5, I wondered, “Are my glasses smudged?” But it was the sky, hazy with a screen of smoke. I stopped frequently for water. Why not? We should always hydrate, shouldn’t we? But the mask protected me as I pedaled: I wasn’t coughing at all.
On the trail it was hazy but certainly not like the photo above. The birds were twittering and the ducks swam in the creek. It was green and beautiful, except for the smoke. I was concerned about the birds: how many die in the smoke?
We think of wildfire smoke as western. It never occurred to us that the beautiful forests in Canada, too, would burn. I believe this smoke was coming from Ontario, one of my favorite provinces.
As I rode home, people were walking, biking, and running in the haze. We all hate to be cooped up.
In T. C. Boyle’s new novel, Blue Skies, one of the characters points out to her mother that California is on fire all the time.
Now it’s everywhere.
This is the way we live now.