For the last few days I have been unable to retrieve books from the library because the bad air quality has closed down operations. 2020 has, as a year, presented a wide variety of issues and problems and the fires themselves have fully been connected with the larger social malaise that we are dealing with this year that have added to the hits that the West Coast has been forced to face so far. Let us discuss the many layers of the complications of fire and bad air quality and how they connect with the larger woes of 2020, in contributing to a darkness that can be felt all over the West coast, an eerie experience, it must be admitted. Let us begin with what is most of interest to me and perhaps least of interest to you, but rest assured, we will not lapse completely into solipsism, as there are matters that are of interest to far more people than just myself.
For the most part, I am fairly dense when it comes to what is going on in local news. On the one hand, I can recognize when air quality is bad when it looks like evening when it’s mid-afternoon, and the air has the permanent smell of burning firewood that makes me hungry . But how bad is bad? It so happens that my local library system has been closed since Friday, and since I have a large amount of books I want to pick up from the library and read and review before the Feast of Tabernacles, it has irritated me that every day the library has decided to be closed but hinted that it may be open tomorrow if conditions change, only for those conditions not to change and in fact never get appreciably better at all, even if at this point they are not actively bothersome to me. When you have spent the last week or more in an area where the air reminds you that something is cooking, it is hard to know exactly how bad the conditions are, because on some days the air might feel cool and moist, even if it is filled with the thick smoke of many massive forest fires.
But rest assured, the air is bad. Portland’s local media is reminding us, at least from the stories I can see online, that the Portland region at present has the worst air quality of any major city in the world. That is impressively bad air quality of the kind that one might find in Mongolia or China, and doctors are of course urging people to stay inside, for obvious reasons. The smoke cloud from our fires has extended as far east as Michigan, where the air is seen as being hazardous to breathe for osme people. To my eyes, at present as I look out the window while I type this, the air seems to remind me of one of those pleasant fall fogs that one finds in the early morning, only with the smell of a wood stove. By chance, the LPGA tour had an event in the Portland area and they have shortened it to 54 holes because they do not believe that conditions will improve in time for a Thursday start time. Based on that, it may be a while before I am able to retrieve my books.
Yet these fires are not isolated events. Like everything else, they are politicized, because the wildfires have followed a summer in which the region’s big cities spent a fair amount of time burning from civil unrest, and because partisans of both right and left have been accused of arson in starting the blazes that have torched huge amounts of Oregon, California, and Washington over the past few weeks. And while going outside to get fresh air and sunshine is one of the best ways of dealing with Covid, going outside in the hazy and smoky air that is terrible to breathe helps the poor and suffering lungs of few people, and so for yet another reason we are trapped inside, isolated, with few places to go and hazard and risk facing us wherever we do happen to go. And that is greatly lamentable, even if it could be far worse for most of us. However bad the air is, my home has not yet been threatened by fire, although I know people whose homes have been so threatened. This is only the beginning of sorrows.
 See, for example: