On "The Road," Choking on Smoke

So I’ve owned a house in southern Colorado for ten years, and during that time have seen our summer weather go up and down, some years wet and some years dry, only it always seems to be trending toward hotter and dryer. The locals all remark on that, how things have changed in the last two decades. Traditionally summers have been generally wet, marked by afternoon rains that occur during the monsoon season, which is about to start. But during this decade the amount and frequency of fires has changed enormously.
In the past, fires were common enough, but also rare enough that large ones were strange and unusual events. Now they’re common and, at least on the national scene, taken for granted. Each year we seem to set a new record for number of homes burned. Over 500 homes just burned in the Black Forest fire in Colorado Springs, and last year nearly 400 burned in the Waldo Canyon fire. If 900 homes burned in any city in the U.S., but especially New York, it would be talked about as a great disaster, akin to the Hurricane Sandy hoopla.
People have described Climate Change as a slow motion disaster, and I think that’s apt. But for the people living out in the West, the motion is not so slow. Right now we have four fires (or more) burning in our area. Yesterday we woke to blue skies and by days end our whole valley was choked with smoke from a fire over a hundred miles away. (We just happened to be in the wind drift.) Last September I drove a hundred miles across Montana in a haze of smoke. This is getting to be the “new normal.” And that’s bad news. It’s like waking up and suddenly you’re in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, only without all the cannibals, and where the supermarkets are still open (thank goodness). My novel The Bird Saviors, which is out in paperback right now, features a refrain of fires in the hillsides, the townspeople choking on smoke. That’s a reality now. Here’s a picture of the road to my house, which is on a beautiful hillside, below a former ski resort (abandoned due to lack of snow, among other things).

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