Monday, August 20, 2018

Today's West: Forest Fires, Destruction, Hazardous Air, and the Lost Month of August

Every year
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
 -Mary Oliver, "In Blackwater Woods" 

I'm getting better at letting things go.  Love hard while they're alive, because regret is the thing that makes letting go so much more difficult.

Yesterday, I put on my headphones and listened to Rainer Maria Rilke's letters about grief and loss, read by Roseanne Cash, The Dark Interval, as I worked around the barn---through smoke.

Smoke is like fog (except worse) in the way it blurs the edges of what we can see with what is in the far distance--so that whatever barriers exists between them, seem merged.  And, that is what I took from Rilke's letters.  Life and death are one, and we need to fully claim both or, at least, be cognizant that we inhabit both.

We have to be the masters of our lives--and our deaths--almost like the martyrs were theirs.  We should delve into our grief and see what it has to teach us about living.  Living fully. Remembering fully. Embracing it all.

Which leads me to Beautiful Girl.  I'm not done with her yet, for a couple reasons.  One, she loves Liberty work, and charges toward me in pasture every day to do some.  She gets it.  She gets the  hand gestures, the treat position, all of it.  And she loves it.  Two, I've found a woman who trains horses in a very gentle way, and she's right next door.  I've been conversing with  her and told her everything about BG, and she is going to come over to meet her.  I'm taking it one day at a time, but there is hope.  I'm also going to have her teeth floated.  I'm wondering if there wasn't something wrong in her mouth that day she bucked me off.  I've often floated teeth when things aren't going well and, as of yet, it has never helped.  But yesterday, I saw a string of drool from Bee's mouth, which made me highly suspect something going on in there.  We shall see.

I couldn't fall asleep the other night, so I laid in bed and looked at Instagram.  There were all these pictures of really beautiful pieces of people's lives.  It was inspiring. Yesterday, we had all this smoke, which we still have today, and I remembered those pictures.  So, I started snapping shots--trying to capture something beautiful out of something so tragic.

Yes, the fires we are experiencing are tragic. Yes.  Yes.  Yes.

I grew up in the Northwest, during the era when this area was built on lumber and logging.  And, we didn't have fires like this. We always had hot, dry Augusts with no rain, and we always had fires here and there--but not like this.

In our area, in particular, the logging industry suffered when the Spotted Owl was moving toward extinction.  Once the logging industry was all but killed, the Spotted Owl numbers continued a precipitous decline because, it turned out, of the Barred Owl.  Here's an article from the Smithsonian you can read, if you're interested.

This is all to say, it's time to find a happy medium between the clear-cutting of old, and the wise and judicious forest husbandry needed today.

We have overcrowded and diseased trees in our forests, and it's time to manage them better.  In my local park, we have the same problem, but no money to do the work ourselves.  I'm curious why we just don't mark the trees that need removal, then let the city's residents have a day or two to come into the park and cut down the trees--no charge--for firewood.  Instead, we leave them alone, and it's a tinder box.  We've had fire after fire in that little park.  What good does it do anyone when whole stands of trees are wiped out?

This is definitely a western problem.  The smoke you see in this picture is coming from the many fires in Washington state, California, and Canada.  We'll never be able to stop all the fires, but we can stop some faster, with better management.

Today's air quality index is 399--HAZARDOUS.  It's not good for horse OR human.  Think of all the carbon dioxide in this smokey smog.  It's worse than a city full of gas-guzzling cars and trucks, with no emissions systems.  And it's not going away anytime soon.

It breaks my heart.

In the West of today, we can all just put a big, fat X through August and invest in gas masks.  The outside animals, however, have to suffer.


  1. It really is horrible. I remember the days of clear cut timber, and we never had as many fires then, even though the summers were just as hot. Clear cuts also benefit wildlife when the new growth comes in.

    1. Whatever they have to do to stop this, I'm all for it. I think clear-cutting can work in certain areas to create a fire barrier. Around here, to get in to diseased and over-crowded trees, they plow logging roads--which also create a fire barrier, and give firefighters interior access, should a fire break out. At this point, I think they need to throw everything at it in Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho and Canada. But I'm afraid many of these big policy decision are made my people who don't live here, but rather on the East Coast.

  2. The smoke is so thick. I worry about the animals too. When I lived in Nevada, every summer was polluted by smoke. I had a friend there who used Mary Oliver excerpts at the top of his poems. He was nature poet. I'm glad Bee likes her liberty.

    1. I really like Mary Oliver. She was friends with Edna St Vincent Millay’s sister, as a young girl, and I like Edna St Vincent Millay, too. Yes, Bee is smart, that’s for sure. Liberty agrees with her.

  3. I wish I could send you some of our rain! Last night we had a historic rainfall in the big little city I grew up in, and surrounding towns south of us were evacuated. Some got over 11" of rain in a short period of time. Our waterways are over flood stage, with more rain predicted today. If only the powers that be would give some thought & money to managing our deteriorating planet. It goes without saying, but I truly hope things clear up out West for everyones sake. Nice series of photos that reflect conditions. I haven't been inspired to pull out my camera and take any photos lately. No clue why. It will be interesting to hear your neighboring trainers take on Bee.

    1. Inspiration comes and goes. I am glad I caught those moments. At the very least, it made me confront this new, awful reality. Our side of the state is controlled by the West side of the state, and they’re generally much wetter. However, this time, even they have the smoke! People are going to have to do some serious soul searching and start fixing the issue immediately.

  4. Oh yes, it really is awful outside! So much smoke that it hurts my chest when I'm out in it, and I worry about the animals too. They are lethargic, heads hung low and I know they're feeling the effects of this hazardous air. And the heat has been oppressive! What a lousy combination and it's just miserable. After a perfectly beautiful spring, I should have probably seen this coming. The powers that be are just not into using good sense these days. I can't help but feel that they are being bought by the environmental crazy people who just don't have a clue about forest management. Watching our beautiful forests burn, not to mention homes and wildlife is heartbreaking. What a waste when it truly is preventable. I am just done with this summer.

    1. Agreed. This city was built on the lumber industry, but that has been largely destroyed. I am all for a happy medium, but they need to do something sooner, rather than later. Our weather hasn’t changed, we’ve always been the drought side of the state, but our forest management is now non-existent.

  5. My heart breaks along with yours... Better management is the answer, as this just "mgmt style" isn't helping anyone or anything. I grew up in Colorado, and there weren't fires like this before.
    I am glad to hear that you may have found someone to help you with BG. Her mouth just may be an issue.
    It's also smokey here in the forest.
    Take care!

    1. Agreed. I’ve lived around here my whole life and this didn’t happen. The spotted owl controversy almost single-handedly destroyed the lumber industry. Environmentalist groups sued the companies whenever they started logging projects, and it was too expensive to fight. The sun is coming up here right now, and lots of smoke already. I haven’t seen the sun or blue skies in weeks.

  6. I do hope your weather clears up. I read that if you're by Seattle it's like smoking 7 cigarettes a day. Its not good for anyone. We've had mostly rain, high temps and humidity. Lots of lightening and thunder storms. Knocked out all our electrical stuff for a week with a lightening strike in the back yard. The worst summer ever. My niece lives in California and told my daughter to cancel her trip out there this month. The smoke is just too bad. Crossing my fingers for lots of rain for you.

    Bee is very smart and its good she's having fun with the Liberty training.

    1. That is horrible. I feel sorry for anyone who is in smoke like this. I was actually very surprised that Seattle had so much smoke. They don’t usually get as much as we do. I am kind of glad though, because it is the west side that makes all the decisions in our state. Enough people need to want a change in order to make a change. That is horrible. I feel sorry for anyone who is in smoke like this. I was actually very surprised that Seattle had so much smoke. They don’t usually get as much as we do. I am kind of glad though, because it is the west side that makes all the decisions in our state. Enough people need to want a change in order to make a change. We truly have lost August every year. It’s a shame, because we don’t have horrible hot temperatures like some places do. So we could actually enjoy August if it weren’t for the fires.

      I’m sorry you’re having such a bad one back there. Opposite of us, but sounds just as bad.

      Bee is very smart on the ground. In saddle, a bit unpredictable, but we’ll see 😀 I’m having fun with her anyway.


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