House Arrest

It’s been crazy in Oregon lately, to the point I now find myself under house arrest.

Sort of.

You might be thinking, “ah, so that’s why he hasn’t been posting lately.” But that’s not it.

You might also be thinking, “big deal – what with COVID lately we’ve all been under house arrest.” And while there’s some truth to that, it hasn’t actually stopped us from leaving the house to run errands, or even just go outside and run, if that’s what you’re into.

In fact, a couple weeks ago we decided we’d spent enough time hanging around the house and took a little hike on Sauvie Island, 10 miles north of here or so. As this is essentially a photography blog, that gives me an excuse to temporarily distract you from the dismal current reality of house arrest, and the sad truth of what’s behind it. So before we get into the bad news, here’s a few shots from that lovely day, on a nice but not spectacular trail.

The hike was to be around a shallow lake, which in turn would attract various waterfowl and maybe even beavers. The reality was that in August of a long, dry summer, the lake was no more. It was just a depression, grown in with various greenery. No waterfowl to be seen, or even foul water.

But there were some interesting plants and the occasional flower. I’m guessing at what they are, based on Google image searches.

This is the base of a fairly common flower, pre-opened. Some might even call it a weed. Different strokes, and all that.

After it opens up.

I’m no botanist, but I believe this to be Queen Anne’s Lace. Strangely enough, a member of the carrot family.

A fern, as a landing strip for a bit of lichen.
A something, (thistle maybe?), gone to fuzz.
A thistle, (for sure), gone to buzz.
Aster, maybe? I asked’er, but she didn’t say. But then, nor was she Mum.
Orange Jewelweed (Impatiens Capensis).

Along one side of the trail loop was a section of the Columbia River.

If it seems a bit small for the mighty Columbia, it’s because the main channel is on the other side of the island. Sauvie Island is the largest island along the Columbia River at 26,000 acres, and one of the largest river islands in the United States.


Ah, for those halcyon days when we could wander freely in the out of doors, (albeit with a facemask handy for social distancing.) How did it come to this, that I dare leave my home only at hazard to my life?

Could it be that I’ve been swept up in the riots of Portland, so greatly hyped by certain media sources? Have I been arrested and shackled to my coffee table for lack of jail space?

Nope, not me. I’m not really the confrontational type. If I was out protesting, it’d be with the peaceful majority that go home at a reasonable hour, not the hotheads from both sides that come out in the vampire hours.

No, what shackles me to my couch these days is smoke. Portland, and nearly all of the Willamette Valley could be renamed Malos Aires these days. (That’s Bad Air, for those who’s Spanish deserted them after high school.)

Odds are you’ve heard of the wildfires in western US by now. This is working out to be the worst year ever for Oregon and California, brought on by a long, hot dry spell. (I’m not sure if it’s the worst for Washington too.) This is more and more the case in recent years. I’ve lived in Portland over 40 years now, but it’s in the last 5 we’ve been twice named the city with the most polluted air in the world, both due to wildfires. (The last time was the Columbia Gorge fires, in 2017.) Between this ever increasing problem, and the ever more problematic hurricane seasons, can anyone with a straight face claim global warming isn’t having an impact?

I took this shot a few evenings ago, when the air quality index was 290, merely very unhealthy. That’s when we first made the most polluted city air list. The following couple of nights you couldn’t see the sun at all. All that smoke in the air has damped the temperatures too – shades of a nuclear winter.

Last night, when I went to bed, the reading was off the scale, at 537. Beyond hazardous (300-500 on the scale.) Other parts of the Willamette Valley, closer to the fires, have had it even worse.

This morning, the air was thicker still.

The good news is, much of that extra thickness was fog, not more smoke. Perhaps that has helped, the reading is merely hazardous now, at 434. Visibility is about one block. Smog, on steroids.

This is why we’re under “house arrest.” Not for our sins, but because it’s flat out unhealthy out there. It doesn’t smell that great either.

It’s not all gloom and doom. The high winds (30-50 mph/50-80 kph) that whipped up the conflagrations a few days ago have been replaced with an almost eerie calm. While this doesn’t nothing to clean up the air, the fires have stopped growing like crazy. And we have rain, finally, in the forecast. Hopefully by Monday night. This should help with both the air and the firefighting. It’ll take a while, but with luck we’re turning the corner.

In the meantime, for many the damage has been done. Oregon has had a couple of small towns wiped out completely, and others severely damaged. Rural folks have lost their homes and livelihoods. California’s story is similar, and even larger scale. Washington’s been hit too.

It’s not pretty, and it’ll take a while to recover.

Would you like to help? Consider donating to the Red Cross. They’ve a selection on their donation web page for Western Wild Fires. About 90% of donations go directly to affected communities.

As for us, we look forward to the not too distant day when we can shed the shackles of our de facto house arrest and deal merely with COVID. (Ever wonder how many people would wear facemasks if you could see COVID the way you can see smoke?) And to the not too distant month when viable vaccines are easily acquired, freeing us to safely live life to the fullest. (Early 2021, maybe?) And maybe even a time when our leaders decide spreading discord, insult, and lies are a poor way to solve problems. (Ok, maybe that one’s wishful thinking. But we’re starting from a low bar…)

Better days are in sight.

52 thoughts on “House Arrest

    1. As bad as it is here, we’re probably 30-40 miles from the nearest actual fire. I can only imagine what it’s like within 10 miles. Of course, we’d likely be packing valuables were that the case. I can’t complain too much, it could be worse.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. You are preaching to the choir, as we’ve been dealing with our own hellscape here in Colorado (see ‘Under an Orange Sky’). The wildfire just west of Fort Collins (one of four major fires in the state) has turned into one of the largest, and the smoke was smothering over the Labor Day weekend. Thankfully, we had a snowstorm (yes, snow in September) that helped firefighters get a handle on it, but it continues to burn.

    Thoughts and prayers, and hopes for rain…may we all come out the other side.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I focused on Oregon and California, but we’re not the only ones. That weird weather you guys had where it went from the 90s to snowing corresponds to that extreme pressure gradient that caused those 40 mph winds that whipped up our smaller fires.

      The latest on the rain has a lot of it staying on the coast now. Still, some should eventually show up, and a little wind may help clear the air. Hopefully it’s enough to improve the air without increasing the fires. I suspect this song and dance will be the story for the next couple months, until the rainy season comes into it’s full effect.

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  2. 537??? WOW, that’s the worst I’ve heard. We were in the 170 range here in Lake Tahoe (last week) but that’s not even close to your reading. Good to hear you have rain on the way. Stay safe, Dave, and thanks for your rational, true thoughts in a time of lies and liars.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, 170 would actually seem kinda nice at this point. Strange how skewed our perspectives can become. How can it be that our environment can become so toxic that merely unhealthy would be something to look forward to?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Gay Julian

    I feel for you all as we in Australia went through our own hell on earth earlier this year. All you can do is pray for a month of rain and stay indoors and if you need to evacuate be prepared and leave early. It is hard to know what is real in the press. Our fires were reported overseas as arson but after months of investigation none were.
    It is nice to see some lovely pictures without smoke.
    Email to follow.
    Keep safe

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I remember that. Where we are is far enough from the fires that evacuation isn’t really a concern. If that changes it’d be global news as a large city would be on fire. We have had rumors going around, spread by far right wingers that the Antifa has set the fires on them so they can go in and loot. Fortunately those rumors have been quickly squashed as false, but it just goes to show what kind of crap some people think is acceptable to throw out there.

      We are moving towards the rainy season, but it’ll probably be November before we get enough rain to really get the fires under control.

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  4. Glad to hear from you, Dave. And some great photos, I really love the one with the bit of lichen on a fern, a lot. And that glowing sun is a cool shot, even if it’s horrible air that makes it look that way.
    I know it was coal smoke, and not from forest fires, but I keep thinking an article I read, about the Great Smog that hit England in the ’50’s. When the coal smoke combined with fog, it formed sulfuric and hydrochloric acid. I don’t remember much of chemistry class, but pretty sure you don’t want to breath that stuff. My relatives in Utah have been talking about the smoke coming over the mountains, which they can’t see on the bad days.
    I used to see the Air Nat’l Guard or Reserve (or somebody) practicing with C-130’s or some sort of huge transport plane, I think flying out of Niagara Falls. I’m guessing there’s hundreds of these sitting around right now, waiting for the next Iraq or Afghanistan, and seems like it would be nice to retrofit them with temporary water tanks, and put ’em to use, putting out fires.
    Hope you get pardoned pretty soon from house arrest.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember seeing a movie where that British fog/coal smoke was a prominent plot point. Churchill, maybe? At the moment, aerial fire fighting is problematical because there’s so much smoke they can’t see where the mountains are. (The fires are mostly in the Cascades and their foothills.) We’re hoping for enough wind to pick up to clear the air a bit, without whipping up the fires.

      I like that lichen on fern shot too. I almost missed it, my wife noticed it and wondered what it was. I saw it and saw a cool shot. I do wonder if I made the fern too dark in my conversion to b/w though.

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  5. Beautiful photos of your hike, Dave. I especially love the one of the light at the end of the trail. So sorry to hear about your prison. Over the past few months I’ve noticed a lot of license plates from Oregon and California in my quiet part of the world..new transplants. It’s funny, people from Michigan used to move there. Hope all settles down for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, I’m sorry to hear that. Seeing this stuff on the tube is so surreal, sometimes it’s hard to identify with the poor folk who are suffering the brunt of it. This really brings it home. It makes a bit of bad air seem like a minor problem. We’ve driven through Talent a number of times, usually on the way back from seeing plays in Ashland. Weird to think half of it’s gone now. I wish the best of luck to your sister, and those like her.

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    1. Yeah, it’s pretty bad. Unfortunately I fear this may be the new normal, what with global warming. It almost seems like we need a hurricane or wildfire right on top of the Capital building for the politicians to take it seriously.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. First of all, fabulous photos as always! But I am so sorry about the fires (and I’ve heard some were even intentionally set, which in my mind, is murder), and all the devastation they have caused. Our climate is indeed changing and not for the better. Take care, Dave…you and your whole family.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For the most part, it’s unknown what has caused most of the fires. There was a rumor started by the far right that the Antifa started them out of hate, and so they could come in and loot, but law enforcement has squashed that and pleaded that folks be truthful about the situation. It’s bad enough without making it worse. Having said that, wildfires are often started by humans, intentionally or not.

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  7. Here’s to hoping things get better. I try not to be political on WordPress and I’m a firm believer that your country = your choices, but if that’s a thing I hope for is that the next President in the US isn’t a climate denier and somebody who believes that you can create a barrelload of jobs in green tech. We need that.

    Oh… and maybe bring back controlled burns and goats/cows grazing in the wild/woods.

    I’m hoping it all ends soon guys!
    Fabrizio

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a mystery to me that so many folks seem to be a anti-science. I don’t know if it’s because they struggled with the subject in school, or because it conflicts with some literal Bible interpretations, or it’s a blind following of a cult, or just what. Whatever it is, such folks have always been with us.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. We are all feeling horrible about the burning that is taking place out west. Like another commenter, I’ve had my own small dose in the last week with the large Colorado wildfires that have sent their acrid haze into the Denver area. Hard to imagine we are living in a time where “only Covid” sounds like a reprieve!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. We were 21 on Saturday. My parents picked a great time to flee the PNW for a visit out here! I remember very well the Eagle Creek fire of 2017 and how bad that seemed. Sounds like it pales in comparison to what you’re experiencing now!

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    1. You might want to keep the folks around for a few more days. Better air isn’t expected until Friday, when we actually get the rain we were hoping for today. As for comparing it with 2017, it’s really the rest of the state getting hammered that’s adding to the smoke, on top of having a fire 30 miles out.

      Hopefully recovery doesn’t take too long. There are still parts of the gorge we can’t hike. I suspect the towns in the Santiam Pass area may never fully recover.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Ditto the smoke and fire, Dave. And the observations on our political situation. Fun photos and glad to see you escaped, if only briefly. Peggy and I are in Florence now, thankfully breathing some clean air! And appreciating that most people are wearing masks. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I feel your pain. We had massive bushfires in Australia over our summer. Advised not to leave home on particular days. Coupled with the drought and covid, it sounds like we’ve gone through the same pain. And some people still doubt climate change.

    I’m glad you got to out for at least a bit. Keep safe.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I am sorry for your house arrest and for the devastating wildfires all along the west coast. My love is caught in the same situation in Seattle. It’s so sad. I am glad you were at least able to get a trip to Sauvie Island before it all started and capture some lovely images. I wish you all the best.

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    1. Thanks, Otto. We’ve finally gotten some rain overnight, and more coming today. It’s already cleaned the air to an AQI of 154; merely unhealthy. Hopefully, it’ll damp the fires as well. We’ve another dry spell coming up, time will tell. I don’t think California is getting the rain…

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Residents health was our first concern when we saw photos on TV from the early days in San Francisco – and Alie has relatives in Portland too. I hope you get relief soon.
    There was a time when the Red Cross commingled funds, but for a long time now, they have had a policy that if a donation is designated for a specific disaster, it will go only to that disaster relief program. I also encourage people to support the work of their local Red Cross. Huge disasters make the news, but the most common is a house fire. Nationally, the Red Cross responds t a house fire about every nine minutes. It might not make the news, but if it is your house, it is a disaster.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We got a decent amount of rain on Thursday night and Friday, cleaned up the air nicely. Hopefully, moving forward we don’t get smoked out again, the fires aren’t out yet…

      Regarding Red Cross, we made our donations to the local branch. Sorry California. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Cue James Taylor: you’ve seen fire, I’ve seen rain. I’m sitting here now waiting for Tropical Storm Beta to roll ashore. Tomorrow, maybe. Then, it will begin working its way up the coast to the Houston area. The good news is that it’s a rain event rather than a wind event, and much of the state could use some rain. I wish I could have a word with it and send it your way. But, as my dad used to say, we have to play the hand we’re dealt.

    I really enjoyed your photos from your trip. Some flowers were familiar — the aster, Queen Anne’s Lace, the thistle — but the orange jewelweed is new. It really is a gem. I’ll say that my favorite photo may be the lichen on the fern. As I’ve mentioned, I usually don’t favor black and white photos, but it really, really works in that case!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Crazy how they’ve already used up the alphabet for tropical storms and hurricanes, and there’s probably more to come. We’ve finally seen some rain, it’s cleared up the air nicely. Hopefully, this respite will last – the fires aren’t out yet.

      I didn’t recognize the jewelweed either. I thought it might be some sort of orchid, based on its shape. Guess that’s why I’m not a botanist.

      I’d have to say I like the lichen shot best too. That’s one of the things that’s kind of fun with a digital b/w darkroom over the old film, paper and chemicals based one – you can really tweak different settings and push things to extremes, and all the experimentation costs is time.

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  15. Ah, Dave! 537. Unreal. I was complaining up here about being in the “Very Unhealthy” range but we never got into Hazardous, let alone beyond that. I’m so glad it’s cleared up now.

    I enjoyed your flower and trail photos from Sauvie Island. I bet you were glad you managed even that! I would say the sun photo is beautiful but I can’t bring myself to say that. Let’s just hope that’s the bulk of the 2020 fire season, Enough!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Let’s just say the sun picture is interesting, or striking. My lungs are happy the air’s cleared up, but there still seems to be some residue in there. I’ve come to the conclusion (suspected for years) that I’m mildly asthmatic – this event hasn’t helped any.

      I remember when we had the Columbia Gorge fires in 2017 they didn’t deem the fires fully out until well into the rainy season. This is one year I’m hoping for an early one.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The prolonged exposure, even if you were inside most of the time, can’t have been good. Yes, let’s hope the fire season is over and the rains are plentiful. We’re getting two days of rain this week – very unusual in the islands. I think it’ll be good! Take care, Dave.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. I thought about you when I heard the news about Portland’s air quality. Glad you’re safe and that the air is beginning to clear up. It will take a long time, I suppose, to recover from all the damage from these fires. Even more, from the discord and lies we’ve been exposed to — I’ve not given up my wishful thinking yet. Better days are coming, for sure!

    The little purple flower with the yellow center — I see those all over around here. Pretty little things. Someone told me they were asters, so I guess you’re right!

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  17. I love Sauvie Island, although it has been a long, long time since I last visited ~ your photos take me back, thank you. You’ve captured the spirit of the place with those shots. And then, the smoke. I flew out of Seattle on the 9th of September, which about day one of the wildfire breakout – and from Oregon down through California out my window I could see smoke plumes. Landed in SF for a transfer, and it was noon and eerie, dark orange skies and I could not believe it. I hope things are better now, I’ve heard from my family that fortunately the past week has been a blessing. Hope all is well, and take care.

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    1. The air is much better now. We’ve had a couple rain storms in the last week and it’s cleaned things up nicely.

      This particular trail on Sauvie was a new one for me, I’ve generally gone to the other side of the island. One aspect of this trail that was nice that I didn’t mention; blackberry bushes with ripe or nearly ripe berries.

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      1. The news over the past couple weeks has been great out of the PNW. We had blackberries up around the Puget Sound area a couple weeks ago before I left ~ enough for my mom to make some jam 🙂 Cheers and take care!

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