It’s been crazy in Oregon lately, to the point I now find myself under house arrest.
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.
I’m no botanist, but I believe this to be Queen Anne’s Lace. Strangely enough, a member of the carrot family.
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.