The heartbreak of the smoke

I never thought the sky would stretch so formless and white over these skies, but the veil of ash is seasonal. It’s disorienting to see things like that, against a truly blank backdrop that diffuses the light and at once obscures the sun so that it is both everywhere and less particularly anywhere, giving a natural ability to your animal sense of time as it ages through the sky. 

It was blue in California when I came back from Korea, so blue, deeply and almost depthlessly blue in a way that taunted the ocean when I would watch the horizon from the beach, and having come off just one brief spat on the CMA CGM Almaviva, I had some meager sense of just how tremendous the ocean was, and what enormity might dwarf even it. 

Korea’s clarity came with hurricanes, and more than once just for that I found myself wishing for them, though every season’s passing meant a lethal end to someone, somewhere, in the whipping gusts and rooftop furniture flying down, smashing glass and twisting stamped metal in the streets. Times beyond those, the humidity fogged the mountains in a way that shows exactly the gauged shadows of mountains disappearing off like the inks that would depict them, and this same humidity in the modern day caught all the pollution of the city and held it like a dirty mop head, and every successive morning gave the cars, the streets, the towering buildings a stealth of the tides of the night’s moisture made thick with industrial metals and soots of a growing economy. 

Summers back to the US during that time were always marked by fascination at the sky. So vast, empty, and like a gem transmitting the pure sun, uninterrupted, unbent from its course from source to blinking eye. Even Portland seemed bright, California tremendously so; Texas was otherworldly. 

But in that clarity is the season too for fire, and its season is a hungry one and we tempt it still every chance we get, and in the moments of our forgetfulness tend the ground for it to strike. 

Along the highways out here, north up 55, or the morning route east on 84, you wind through a great, dry nothing, which sometimes rolls but mostly rests at just shy of flat, until it’s rumpled with volcanic rocks and you start seeing gaps here and there, like the surface of the very thing is unfinished – and then from nowhere there’s a chasm, and when you wind down to it through the most improbable and improbably kept town greeneries there’s a rainbow hanging twenty stories tall there beside the waterfall. 

It’s a shock like you felt when you first saw liquid nitrogen. Or pure sodium sputter and flare in water. or saw a tornado gather and dip, only to falter and disperse: when nature is so visible. 

In the moment, in the closeness and the color, the sun is bright and everything is alight and glimmering, but that water in the eyes is from that veil, that hangs, when you back out of the image. 

It’s strange for no good reason: in Colorado your parents were once evacuated, and other times besides, their friends alike. More than once. And Southern California has essentially defined fire as a season more persuasive than any other. But, to see it again, and the greater normalcy of that diffuse white sunlight rather than the apocalyptic orange orb you’ve seen before, hanging over the hot, wavy horizon. 

You feel like it’s coming your way, a bit, after hours driving through the foothills into the Sawtooth mountains, and it’s always there, that indistinctness, a bit white, a bit grey, a bit brown, fading just enough over head to give you an idea of how thick it was, but in some valleys, and in the many felled and blackened trees you see, it feels like the wake of a long march, which would do no good to chase further. After all, it’s seasonal. Let the devastation be the full sweep of the cycle. 

Korea turned a bit bluer before I left and slips and advances here and again now as the US just slips and stumbles and stabs itself furiously in every essential organ, hell bent on making the worst of Korea’s days a reality in the skies in the states.