It’s a new habit. Reaching the corner where my street meets Siskiyou, I look left.
Although there’s a soft, steady down slope, it’s a straight shot into downtown Ashland. I know that two miles away is the Ashland Springs Hotel’s yellow building. I can’t see it today. I can see the first traffic light, at Walker. That’s just under a mile away. With today’s smoke, the prevailing visibility is about a mile away, as it has been for the last three days.
Fires ring our valley, sending smoke into it. Most of the fires started on July 15 when lightning strikes lit the dry brush and trees.
Although it’s the third year that I’ve been forced to do this, I’m not used to wearing a mask to walk around. We used to do it in the military as part of our war games, during simulated attacks. They were never fun. Neither is this.
Thoughts about the fire’s causes are inevitable, as are hopes and worries for the other people driven from their homes by the fires, and fears for the animals, and concern for the land. Thoughts about the firefighters out there fighting the fires on our behalf arise, along with thoughts of thanks.
Containment is the word of the month, followed closely by conflagration. When will the fires be contained? The closest, the Hendrix Fire, isn’t that large, just one thousand plus acres. Nine miles away, it’s thirty percent contained, but it’s not the fire delivering most of this smoke. That’s an accumulation from all the fires to the north and west.
What’s striking is how the smoke changes Ashland’s character. Outdoor events are canceled, curtailed, or moved indoor, if possible. There are fewer hikers and walkers, because part of the Pacific Coast Trail is also closed. Cyclists, usually so common, are rarely seen. With the diminished visibility, we can’t see the mountains. Ashland could be a plain town, or one on the seashore.
You’d never know it, with this smoke.