Two weeks ago, in what might have been an improbable and random decision, I moved to Corvallis, Oregon. I have been spinning my gears, doing nothing useful, for quite a while, and so I decided to make a move. Despite the situation with the pandemic, I had to do something. What I am going to do, I don't know. 2020 is such a mess that any achievement or movement counts as a wild victory. From March until August, I had not had an in-person conversation with a person I knew of, except my mother. Things were at a dead end. So I came here.
Corvallis is an almost irritatingly wholesome place. And, I realized in my first week here, a pretty flush place, after being in Eureka, California. Corvallis is a weird mixture of laid-back hippies and German engineering. Lots of health-food and book stores, music venues, bars, and also the parks are all immaculately well-kept. The buses run on time, and are free. I was starting to settle in, despite the unpredictability of the future.
And then the smoke came. Monday, after a hot day, a hot dry air, as forecast, started blowing in from the east. Several large fires were burning in the Cascades, pushed by the winds, and the winds also pushed the smoke in an unusual direction: westward, into the populated Willamette Valley, instead of across into Eastern Oregon. Where I am, the danger of the fires is not an immediate concern. But the smoke is choking, thick, unavoidable. I've lived in Montana, and seen many fire seasons, some with smoke that hung around for weeks. What I am seeing now is like the worst day ever in Montana, repeated for a week. The readings have gone literally off the charts. The Air Quality Index for PM 2.5 goes from Good to Moderate at 50 mcg a cubic meter. Moderate to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups at 100. Unhealthy for everyone at 150. Very unhealthy at 200. At 300, it goes up to "Hazardous", meaning even healthy people should avoid going outside. The scale stops at 500. For two days, we were over that. For the past week, people in Oregon have been trading their numbers, like we were dads in 80s Oat Bran commercials. I just checked---right now we are at 169, while most of Oregon is still in the Hazardous range. The sky has been a weird orange and red color for a week. I did see my shadow today. The air is a little damper, and the fires have stopped growing explosively, but there is no clear signal of when a fire season ending event will happen, or even something to clear the air a little.
There is one word that comes up: Apocalyptic. I know that might get thrown around a lot, especially in 2020, but it feels that the world I know is ending. It looks like the world I know is ending. The red skies have given me a sense of doom that nothing else in this year has.