I graduated this June and was excited to finally have time to keep up with this blog project, building it into a timely, engaging collection of information, musings, and questions related to the kind of nature scenes you might see in your backyard, on a hike, or walking through your neighborhood. My vision for True Nature Filter has always been to share bright, colorful, unapologetically-filtered photos I’ve taken and then stimulate critical thinking about the image and its subject beyond the level of “ooh, pretty picture!” I am still committed to that vision.
However, I have spent my summer at home in Southern Oregon in a depressingly unyielding cloud of smoke. Fires from Oregon, California, and elsewhere in the West have been tearing across the dry landscapes for much of the summer. While I am fortunate to be out of the reach of those flames, I have been living indoors. For those of you who know me at all, you know how much I would rather be outside in most situations. Before the smoke descended on the valley in mid-July, my parents, my partner, and I did manage a few nice jaunts into the woods. We went to a lake one day. We camped on Mt. Ashland and admired wildflowers. A few weeks ago, my partner and I escaped to the beautiful Oregon coast for a glorious three days of blue skies and sea breeze.
Therefore, I can’t even make the excuse that I haven’t had any beautiful nature photos to share. I have them, and if you follow this project on Instagram, you know I have posted some of them. What I haven’t done, however, is the tough part. I haven’t kept up with this blog. I planned to spend a summer writing everything from my blog, to my novel, to new guitar songs, and I have definitely done more creative writing than I did in grad school. However, it hasn’t exactly been the Summer of Lucia’s Writing Renaissance that I had planned. Why? I have to tell you, folks: It’s the smoke.
I realize now, though, that if I’m going to call myself a writer, I have to be able to write through the haze – both the tangible one outside, and the one in my head that has developed from an unanticipated summer indoors. I’m excited (well, maybe that’s not the right word) to share with you how I have coped with smoke this summer, but I will save that for my next post. First, we need to get on the same page about smoke itself.
After watching parents and children playing in the park while the Air Quality Index (AQI) was at “Hazardous” and seeing elderly folks jogging down the street when the smoke obscured the view of the houses across the way, I feel it’s necessary to establish something quite critical: Smoke is more than just weirdly colored air. Also, just because wildfire smoke is “natural” (though, we can have a long discussion about that statement) does not mean it is safe to inhale. Smoke that sticks around in a valley for weeks on end is dangerous and can have short-term and long-term health effects.
After all, what do you think makes the air turn gray, or black, or white, or brown? Particles. Billions of tiny particles from incinerated trees, buildings, fences, meth houses, vehicles, animals, and anything else that was in the path of one of the wildfires are now flying around in the air, and if you’re outside on a smoky day, you’re probably breathing them in. Those particles are minuscule, and that’s what makes them dangerous. If inhaled deeply enough, they can find a lasting home in your lungs and also affect your heart.
There’s a lot more to smoke than particles, too. According to airnow.gov, “Smoke is a complex mixture of carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide, particles, hydrocarbons and other organic chemicals, nitrogen oxides, and trace minerals.” The levels of each of those components can vary from day to day and fire to fire, but a simple way of thinking about wildfire smoke is to use common sense based on visibility and to make a habit of checking the AQI for your area.
In my next post, I will share what I’ve learned about respirator masks, air purifiers, and air quality apps. Until then, breathe easy!