Every year, here in Montana and throughout the Mountain West, we have fire season. Fire season runs anywhere from May to October, (although in Montana it is usually only July and August) and can be anything from a slight inconvenience to a terrible threat. For the most part, we take fire season in stride. I sometimes have trouble explaining to people from other climes that fires aren't a natural disaster, that they are an expected part of the summer. If there is a forest fire 50 miles away, to ask me whether I am in danger is like asking someone in Philadelphia if they are safe because there was a mugging in The Bronx. Of course we aren't safe, but its not at the top of our minds.

Besides this: fires create a lot of smoke, which wafts up and forms a thick blanket. It isn't the choking acrid smoke that causes acute eye watering and coughing. By standard measures of air quality, this type of smoke should be below the level of being a health risk. But after several weeks of hazy smoke hanging everywhere, I start to notice that I am not functioning as I should. Predictably, I get a little cough and black dry little boogers. But more insidiously, my brain stops functioning the way it should. Vocabulary gets stuck on the tip of my tongue, and I forget people's names. I forget what I was about to do. I have problems stringing together sentences, resorting to saying "I am doing things with the stuff". Making decisions about riding my bicycle in traffic become laborsome, and I find myself becoming clumsy, walking into things. Other people I have talked to have noticed the same thing, including some medical professionals I have talked to.

I don't know if this syndrome from chronic low-level smoke exposure is documented scientifically. The idea that low-level, but chronic exposure to a pollutant could cause a loss of mental acuity is certainly not too far-fetched. All I know is that I have felt dumb and clumsy for the past two weeks, and that hopefully today's rain will mean that tomorrow I will wake up with a clarity I didn't even know I had lost.

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