Thursday, September 10, 2020

This is no "Golden Hour"

A local flower & gift shop sends out weekly emails, and this poem was included in yesterday's (to be sung to the following tune, which I'm including because I need a cheerful dose of 'alternate reality' right now):

There's a bright golden haze in McMinnville
There's a bright golden haze in McMinnville
The smoke fills the skies
We get ash in our eyes
And it looks like the start of our planet's demise....

Our surreal experience started Monday as we drove east to take Brian to college. A strong windstorm was forecast for that afternoon, but it came in earlier than predicted. Visibility diminished steadily; by noon (the third photo below), it looked like dusk and drivers were using their headlights.

It was very windy in Walla Walla, WA, too. We got Brian unloaded and moved in, walked across campus to get a complimentary ice cream cone, and then left for home when our three hours of scheduled time were up. (Walla Walla University has strict pandemic protocols in place.)

Men's dorm, above and below

Brian's room at move-in, above; getting arranged and filled, below

Several times within a few miles of the school, wind-whipped dust obliterated visibility and sand-blasted the truck. Fortunately conditions improved slightly before we reached the main highway. But before we could retrace our route to I-84 westbound, a fresh wildfire closed the road we had traveled just hours earlier. We had to take a detour.

Our newest neighbor texted, asking if they could do anything for the animals. She said, “It is crazy windy here with very low visibility.” An hour and a half later, she texted, “The power just went out.” Sure enough, we came home to leaves and branches everywhere, low visibility, the strong smell of smoke, and no power. We did chores by headlamp and iPhone light, then fell into bed.

Power was restored sometime in the wee morning hours, and the next day dawned much clearer. But I noticed that it looked ominously dark through the trees to our south. I suspected it was smoke, since there were no clouds in the forecast.

Sure enough, while I did morning chores the smoke moved in like an evil force in an old horror movie:

It was both fascinating and rather horrifying to watch. I figured it was smoke blowing north from California, not having watched or listened to any news since arriving home, but when I posted the above photos to Instagram, my neighbor informed me that it was smoke from a new fire just east of Salem (SE of us). By the time I left for work, this is what it looked like from our lane:

By the time I got home from work, it looked like this – true color, no filter!

Since then, what was a thick blanket of smoke above us has settled down around us. Monday's fires have grown, and others have started. The atmosphere is oppressive, made worse by the knowledge that the smoke is a result of incredible destruction of flora, fauna, and infrastructure. Yesterday I had an appointment in Salem*; this is what downtown looked like mid-afternoon:

And this is what it looked like in McMinnville and from my deck this afternoon:

Ash is drifting around, and has even gotten into our locking mailbox:

Our animals all seem to be doing okay, even my asthmatic horse (helped, no doubt, by being on twice-daily steroids). The three boy sheep are hanging out in the woods more than in the Ram-ada Inn lot and aren't eating much hay. I think they are filling up on all those crispy chips (i.e. desiccated maple leaves that blew down)!

(Photos taken Tuesday morning while the air at ground level wasn't so murky.)

But Rick has clients in the path of the fires all around us, and has had to treat at least two of his patients (not for burns) after they were evacuated. He has had to drive by or detour around wildfires to get to those calls, and others.

*As is fitting for 2020, a tooth that has been bugging me off and on throughout the pandemic is now recognizably abscessed. I get to have (another) root canal next week; hooray! 😟😖😩

Oh, and as is also fitting for 2020, last Sunday morning I went out and found a main branch of our Brooks prune tree on the ground:
I picked a whole bunch and invited the neighbor over to pick, too, knowing I wouldn't be able to give them any attention until we returned from our trip. The second dehydratorful is drying now, but the prunes are starting to spoil while they wait. If I didn't already have a bunch canned I would process some that way. I guess, considering I can't keep up with them all, that we can live without that branch.

We are so fortunate compared to thousands up and down the west coast, but we also realize we are one spark away from being in the same boat. Our horse trailer is hitched and ready to load, and I have a short list of essentials to grab should we have to evacuate. Showers may arrive early next week; please, Lord, send a soaker – and sooner!

That's it for now from . . .


Mama Pea said...

Oh, Michelle, what a terrible situation to be in. Not only for yourselves, but you have the animals to think of, too. If you did have to evacuate (praying that you don't), you could load up the horses but what about all the sheep? Keep us informed as I know we'll all be thinking about you.

Michelle said...

Mama Pea, I think I could shove all the ewes, at least, in the two tack rooms if there is not time for two trips. The chickens could go in a dog crate in the back of the truck; I could possibly put the ram and wethers in the back, haltered and tied to keep them in. Thanks for your prayers; we learned today that four families we know through our Christian trail-riding club have had to evacuate – all, of course, have horses.

Portiascloth said...

Hi Michelle, sending you good wishes from Australia. It all seems horribly familiar to our last Summer but in reverse. We had fires followed by the pandemic, you're having it the out her way round. I live in Melbourne so not greatly affected personally this time but very aware as fires were bad in a place where I had worked as a locum just after I graduated. Take care and hope you and your family and animals are all safe

Retired Knitter said...

Oh this is just terrible. I wondered about you and hoped that you were somehow not impacted. I guess your story so far is better than most, but the air, the sky ... it made me nervous just looking at the pictures. Take care. You, your husband and your family of creatures are in my prayers.

Mountaingmom said...

Oh Michelle, I am so worried about you, my other friends in that area and two young married cousins, one with a small child living in that region. I can't imagine the stress knowing it is so near and not knowing if you will have to abandon on a moment's notice. Hoping you get the rain you so desperately need.

Deb Hillyer said...

Michelle, I am so glad to hear that you are safe and well prepared if you should have to evacuate. The photos are frightening and sad. I will truly keep you and your whole family in my prayers.

Florida Farm Girl said...

I was wondering if Brian was off to school yet. Had forgotten the date. I'm so sorry to hear you're surrounded by the mess. I keep hoping and praying that the weather will change and you guys will get some much needed relief. Please stay safe. We have family up on Lummi Island, Washington who were supposed to head down to Gold Beach on Wednesday. Needless to say, that got cancelled along with their continuation to central Washington. Hugs to you and Rick as you adjust to the empty house and all the extra stresses right now.

Helen said...

When I saw my first picture of the situation and it was orange, I thought it was photoshopped color and then I realized, oops, nope. Thinking rainy thoughts and safety.

Card and Comb said...

I think of you and your flock often as I am currently knitting with Blake's 2019 fleece that I spun into a sweater for myself. I read your blog regularly, just thought I would check in this time to say glad you guys are ok still! Some of the news (for everyone, but especially hearing about fiber tool artisans) is so heartbreaking. If there is any silver lining I hope that it leads to more community building and understanding between people in this political climate. <3

marlane said...

We had our big fire last year here in S California and everything was fine no evacuation of horses, just big tanker planes flying over with pink fire retardant. It came withing a hundred yards of the ranch.
That is a major mile stone sending your son off to college. I remember well leaving mine off and shedding a quiet tear. He is 36 now and works in Manhattan after getting a BA and MA in Architecture and Structural Engineering from U C Berkeley. What is Brian majoring in ?

Michelle said...

Thanks, Portiascloth, we ARE safe – as long as we don't breath the air. :-/ Yes, Australia has come to mind; you know of which you speak!

Thanks for your prayers, Elaine; they are appreciated. (Pray for Brian, too.)

Fran, the conditions have improved a little (less wind, much more humidity), but no rain yet. Only a little in next week's forecast, but we'll take anything we can get.

Deb, thank you for your prayers. I hope I don't have to find out if I really am prepared!

To be honest, Sue, the empty nest has not been much on our minds with all the other crises erupting! That and the cooler temperatures because of thick smoke may be the only silver linings to this week....

Helen, it IS surreal out there, in a most unpleasant way.

Jennie, thanks for your thoughts and comment! I was so relieved to learn that the Jenkins (they make the lovely Turkish spindles I use exclusively), who had to evacuate, were allowed back to their house to move sprinklers at least. No power there and they are still evacuees, but their home and shop are still standing. As for your 'silver lining hope,' I really doubt it. There are already (disproven) conspiracy theories swirling that the fires were started by "antifa."

I think I'd be worried about all those chemicals, Marlane! Better than fire, though. Brian is majoring in mechanical engineering.

Fat Dormouse said...

Lord, how scary for you. I will keep you, the livestock, and all in the area in my prayers... Though how it will help I don't know! But it's all I can do.

marlane said...

Michelle the chemicals dropped from the planes are supposed to be non toxic. Wishing Brian much success at college!!

FullyFleeced said...

wow. that smoke looks evil. not quite that bad here yet, but I keep hearing that the big plume is on it's way north. We're also one spark away from a scary situation. Glad you and the critters are ok. Hope the rain comes soon to provide some relief-

Sharon said...

Wow, Brian *just* arrived at Whitman College. I am familiar with it and also know that Adventists have excellent schools with great science programs. Good pick on his part. He is so handsome! But of course he is; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree :-) Your trip is straight out of a horror movie. We are at 551 this morning and as the death reports roll in I find myself crying out of the blue. We’re in a war against an evil shapechanging enemy and I am heartbroken for the many who have lost everything. The firefighters are the true heroes this hour.

Michelle said...

Alison, your prayers are appreciated and our God is mighty!

I just don't know if I trust that on the chemicals, Marlane, given how so many have ended up causing problems after all.

Denise, the humidity has greatly increased here so our fire danger from a random spark has lessened dramatically. I hope the same has happened there.

Thanks for coming over to the blog, Sharon! Brian is actually at Walla Walla University, not Whitman, but they are both in Walla Walla. I guess Whitman dropped its religious affiiliiation over a century ago; WWU is still very much affiliated. Can you imagine how GOD feels over all the destruction??? Yes, I think He mourns and looks forward to the time He has set to rescue those willing to be rescued.

A :-) said...

You know I'm thinking of you and hoping you guys will be safe. Will Brian have a roommate? I hope he will enjoy college.

Michelle said...

No roommates, Adrienne, as a pandemic precaution. The university prioritized freshmen and seniors; most of the sophomores and juniors must attend online.

M.K. said...

I'm so sorry! That does look terrifying. In the middle of it all, still life goes on and your son goes to college. I hope he has a good semester in the midst of all this mayhem. I do pray your home remains safe! The rest of us are watching the west coast with a mixture of alarm and incredulity.