September 2, 2009

report from the smoke shadows.

California is on fire. Each of the past three mornings has veiled everything in ash--the car, tomato plants, the succulents along the driveway. I think of Pompeii after Vesuvius. The ash turned to cement, the world preserved as it was that day, ripe with secrets to be harvested in another millenium.

The fire seems to have its own weather system. We endure inexplicible humidity, we endure the smoke lingering langorously in our streets, we endure the fine film forming on our skins from the moist smoke. Our eyes tear, our animals become suspicious, our mountains disappear from view. The sunrise looks like sunset through the haze and glows a lurid red until late morning, making us wonder if up will soon be down, or if concepts like "up" and "down" are immune. Nothing appears to be immune.

The fire controls our lives. Any question can be answered by a raised arm, index finger held out to indicate the shortest distance between you and the flames. It's as if our view into the past and future are also invaded by an omnipresent smoke that keeps us from seeing the blackened hills of our autumn, the echoing bleakness of our own particular winter. There is only now, this smoke, these flames, the strange survival of us: In the foothills, breathing through barriers, keeping our eyes closed, melting into furniture.

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