Some Sentences, Sept. 2017 – Where there’s fire, there’s smoke

lolopeaksmokeSept. 4, 2017 – Pretty sure I’m being punished for all the times – approximately one million and counting – I’ve said how much I love to cover wildfires.

Because what’s not to love? Big, dramatic flames in big, beautiful landscapes, and let’s not forget the big, gorgeous firefighters. (Oops, did I say that out loud?) One of my first published short stories was about wildland firefighters, and it remains one of my favorite pieces of writing.

I should have known that, like all passionate love affairs, this one would end badly. Wildfire season 2017 has brought more fires to Montana, burning longer, than any summer I can remember, and with them a new factor – smoke. Not the usual two- or three-day infestation that lays down a layer of ash on our cars, but one that has lingered for weeks now, blotting out our view of the mountains and making even mild outdoor exertion an exercise in insanity.

Smoke is not beautiful. It’s not exciting. It sucks. Your eyes sting, your throat burns and your lungs spend all day screaming WTF?

IMG_1828But – trying to find the bright side here – it’s wonderfully atmospheric. The air takes on a yellowish tinge and has actual taste and texture. During the day, the sun is a baleful orange ball, flaring into glorious sunsets before giving up and sinking behind the mountains, which is when the fires – invisible behind their daytime shroud of smoke – rise up against the darkness. People and cars emerge ghostlike from the murk and fade back into it.

Either smoke muffles sound, or things are quieter because so few people want to venture into it. Either way, the silence enhances the eeriness of ours days. Everyone’s edgy, cranky. Any day now, crime is going to get weird.

All of this is great stuff for writers, right? You want to a big, dramatic scene? Throw in some fire. But to really creep people out, go for smoke.

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