The Shadows Are Black

Yes, this is self-evident. Except this year, having trees and other things cast black shadows is a novelty. Allow me to explain.

Going back to June, I noticed one afternoon, as I glanced out my window on one of our many sunny days, that the shadows had soft edges and a reddish cast. The sky was not obviously smoky, as sometimes it has been, but soft blue and just-a-whisker hazy. The sun cast reddish shadows where black ought to be.

And so it continued all summer. With a few exceptions, usually the morning after a storm, reddish shadows stretched and contracted as the sun crossed the sky. No air-quality warnings (except when fires in CO and NM sent smoke right over us), no red skies (like 2019 and 2020), but the light lacked the usual edge that cut crisp lines of black and white, or black on green. Something muted the sunlight, which also explains why tomatoes and the like failed to truly thrive. High smoke and a solar minimum dimmed the light and the plants just didn’t thrive. We had heat, but not clear light.

That began to change three weeks ago, and really shifted this past week, when a very strong cold front and rain lumbered through, drenching everything in one of those cold, damp weekends perfect for curling up with a good book and hot tea, and not doing outdoor chores. (So you can guess who needed to take out the garbage, and do outdoor chores.) On Tuesday, as I drove home, I was gazing at the brilliant orange and gold trees rising above their still-green cousins, and thought, ‘What’s different about the light?” It wasn’t just that the colors are so striking and richer this year than last, or that everything seems to be changing all at once. No, the very light and sky struck me as harder, clearer, sharper than before. I’d gotten so used to the smoky sun that undimmed light surprised me.

No smoke. No dust. The shadows had crisp edges and pure black centers. Light poured down from a clean-washed lapis blue sky that faded to turquoise, not hazy white-blue. Feathers of white touched the heavens here and there, but didn’t block the light.

Fire-season’s not over, not until snows start to fall into Colorado, but the air has cleared. Even with masses of high clouds blanketing the sky, the light remains white, not reddish-tan. The world is a little closer to High Plains normal, for now.

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Personal Dozers and Phantom Helicopters: When Trouble Hits

Wildfire season, alas, started early this year, helped by 50-90 MPH winds and very, very low dewpoints. Broken power-lines and other things spark, dropping sparks onto dry grass and brush, and it’s Katie, bar the door.

That’s when the cavalry, including ranchers and others with heavy equipment, and in one case a mystery water-dropping helicopter, comes riding up. Because there’s a need, and they have the tools, and fill the need. It’s what people do, at least in most of the country. It’s just a bit more dramatic when the flames race and smoke blows, and bulldozers cut wide swaths of brush and scrub in order to slow or stop the flames. The “mystery” helicopter turned out to belong to a group of ranchers who looked around, pooled funds and expertise, and (to make a fun story short) got certified to operate a fire-fighting helicopter. They just, somehow, forgot to tell the local fire marshal and Powers That Be. Instead they showed up and dumped water where and when it was needed, before the state planes could arrive. (Now they are worked into the local system, but the “mystery water bomber” was fun gossip for a while.)

The point being, people are lending what resources they can, when the resources are needed. Just like the local volunteer departments get inundated with granola bars, water, eye-drops, and other things if word gets out that they need things like that. Not to mention baked goods, sandwiches, and other stuff that somehow never makes the news. And folks from outside of town show up for the next fund-raiser to help out after a bad year. It’s an American thing, alas perhaps becoming a regional thing, of “how can we help? Where do we take it? What else do you need?” Up here, we’re rather isolated, even today, and so we tend to turn inward for both entertainment and for help in times of trouble. Being self-contained can be good at times, although there are limits.*

It is easy to think of range-fires and wild-fires as things that happen “out there,” away from towns and cities, in the empty spaces. Fire moves, it jumps, it races. And cities and town often include what looks like “out there,” grassy fields and brushy areas that are city property, or are inside the official municipal limits. Like so many things in the wide, wonderful world, fire doesn’t stop to read maps. It moves with the wind, sometimes against the wind, trots briskly downhill and gallops uphill. All it needs is air, heat, and fuel. Two of those three have been abundant these past seven days, alas, and the results are quietly smouldering as I type.

We’ve been fortunate thus far, and have not lost anyone. That may change. I hope it doesn’t, and I hope we get rain or wet snow soon. But until then, mystery helicopters and private dozers will be ready to answer the call, for which I give great thanks.

*Insular isn’t so good. And being abused by outsiders, and by groups that dump people into the area “because you are so generous” isn’t so good, either.

No Sun, Just Lighter Sky

The Texas Panhandle and surrounding areas have not had sunrises recently. The sky gets sort of pink, and then cream, and that’s it. There’s too much of California and Oregon between us and the sky to be able to see sun, clouds, or much of the stars. This isn’t the first time this has happened. Two years ago, we actually got so many fine particulates from Colorado, plus California, that we had air-quality alerts for people with breathing problems. Continue reading