By Joanna Bastian

Holy smokes, Batman! Finding clean pockets of air is like jockeying for good seats at a concert. At a concert, if you’re lucky, you can reserve perfect seats with a great view. Otherwise, you and your crew spread out strategically and whistle or howl when the good seats are found and secured. If you’re really lucky, it’s an open-air concert with hillside seating and your grassy knoll neighbors are willing to share their fancy picnic fixings.

To find fresh air in the Methow, you can either drive around aimlessly until serendipitously a patch of blue sky appears, or visit to find healthy air. The Methow Valley Clean Air Project has placed sensors throughout the valley collecting real time air quality readings. The sensors read particulate matter pollution — PM2.5, the main component of smoke — and upload readings every 80 seconds.

Volunteers from Carlton to Pateros are needed to host sensors that provide a fuller map of air quality for the entire valley. All that is needed is an outlet for power and a Wi-Fi connection to upload data. Sensors are mounted outdoors in locations similar to where we breathe air: at or slightly above head level on the side of a house, under an eave to protect the device from weather.

The sensors use laser beams to measure the reflectivity of particles, like dust seen through a sunbeam. The number of particulates in the reflective beam are then counted, uploaded, and displayed on a Google map located on the web page. From the FAQ page, “local pollution like cigarette smoke, barbecues, fireplaces and idling cars can cause spikes in the short-term graphs.” Because the low-cost sensors count all particulates of a size similar to wildfire smoke particles, it is important to know that the readouts are sometimes double what the actual smoke levels are. To correct the data, recommends users, “switch the Map Data Layer dialogue box in the lower left hand corner from ‘None’ to ‘AQ and U.’ This will apply a correction factor that will make the readings relate more closely to the official air quality data.”

Sensors are needed at the Lost River Airport, Gunn Ranch trailhead, Gold Creek, Texas Creek and the town of Methow. If you would like to host a sensor, or donate to the effort, visit or email for more information.

On another environmental subject: Plastic is not as recyclable as we were once led to believe. Turns out plastic goes to China, which recently banned “foreign garbage,” stating concerns that countries were including trash with recycle shipments. I’d make a crack about China willing to “dish it out, but not take it” when it comes to plastic … but I can’t think clearly in all this smoke, so I’ll let a wittier person make the punch line work. Hello, Kitty.

After a conversation months ago with Miles Milliken, operations manager at Methow Recycles, I was inspired to look for ways to simply reduce waste, instead of indulgently, naïvely, recycling recyclables that aren’t recyclable. Taking advantage of the bulk bars at Hank’s Harvest Foods and Glover Street Market reduces some container waste. Glover Street has a container exchange program, and Hank’s offers brown paper bags for bulk foods.

My hygiene routine is another reduction opportunity. Not doing less of it, but rather, less packaging. I found wooden toothbrush handles at Glover Street Market, with replaceable plastic heads. Online, I found toothpowders in recyclable aluminum tins. My favorite is Frau Fowler Tooth Powder with “organic essential oils of cinnamon, clove, tea tree, and cardamom.” My mouth feels fantastic after each use. I have yet to find a shampoo bar that doesn’t leave a waxy residue — but when I do, you’ll be the first to know.


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