Remember last June when it was scorching hot? Not literally scorching — that came later, in July — but just so unseasonably hot that we had to comment on the heat to nearly everyone we encountered? It was indeed hot enough for us, we all agreed at every opportunity, which was every day for a month straight, until we got distracted by the valley going up in flames.
Once the smoke blanketed everything in murky grime, instead of heat this and heat that we had a new thing to remark on, a new common enemy. Except the smoke defied description. It was so oppressive, so persistent, so dispiriting, that you couldn’t explain it to anyone who wasn’t experiencing it, and those who were in the thick of it, so to speak, knew exactly what you meant without you telling them about it. It not only stifled our breathing, it stifled our powers of speech. So we just put our heads down and soldiered on grimly, just gritty figures in the gloom.
Then there were the flames, of course. Ponderosa pine trees ablaze on a black backdrop, Lucky Jim and Virginia Ridge and Sun Mountain aglow, embers reflected in the plumes that were visible when the smoke lifted, a hundred spot fires silhouetted against the night sky. We woke hourly from sticky, fitful sleep to check the progress of what looked like lava oozing down-valley. Each morning we visited fire perimeter maps, talked to friends, learned what had been lost and what had been spared. Tree by tree, our forest turned black.
We bantered half-heartedly about wind throughout the fall, but it lacked the wildfires’ impact. It felled some trees and destroyed some patio furniture, but at least we could open the windows and sleep through the night for the first time in weeks. We’d take the windstorms, we said; they were certainly preferable to the fires and the smoke.
Thus when the Christmas cold snap of 2021 descended upon us, it seemed rather hypocritical to complain about the sub-zero temperatures. We swore we wouldn’t whine about the bitter bite of winter, not after a summer like we’d just had. Bring it on, we said. We bundled up, braced ourselves, and went about our business, fueled by the faith that tomorrow, next week, the year ahead, will be better.