Thursday July 22, 2021
Smoke cloaks the Okanagan Valley, as it does much of North America. With wildfires burning all over B.C. and through the western states., smoke can’t help drifting through this valley.
It hangs like frosted glass between me and the far shore of the lake.
To the north and south, water sky and hills merge into an opaque curtain.
There are no horizons.
Smoke is becoming a new normal. As extreme weather patterns come tumbling one after another, we can expect more heat domes. More droughts. More smoke.
I woke the other night realizing that I could smell smoke. That surprised me, because I lost my sense of smell a decade ago. I never know how spicy my chili is, because I can’t smell it. Chanel #5 is wasted on me. I can’t even smell the methane in my own flatulence.
But I could smell smoke. That’s how thick it was.
The stuff of nightmares
The smoke makes the air outside feel different.. Especially at night. Heavier. Almost fluid. As if I have to push my way through it, like wading in chest-deep water.
Years ago, I used to have nightmares. I had to lean forward, to struggle for each step against an irresistible flow of what I thought of as invisible molasses.
Smoke changes my colour perceptions. It tints the skies faintly sepia, like an archival tintype. The sun overhead glows through the smoke like an incandescent orange. The moon is no longer green cheese; it’s cheddar.
I watched the sun set one evening. As it sank into the smoke shrouding the valley, it grew redder and redder.
Until it faded out of sight.
I remembered driving west out of Toronto, watching a similar giant red ball descending towards the horizon ahead of me. I thought, “This will be a spectacular sunset.” It wasn’t. The sun simply disappeared into the grey pall that cloaked industrial Ontario.
That was when I knew I had to move away.
Only now, the haze has come to me.
Worse and worser
Health authorities caution about the negative effects of breathing smoke. Inhaling tiny floating particles of ash can cause lung problems. Delhi and Beijing come to mind.
Cigarette packages bear warnings about the dangers of inhaling tobacco smoke. But how do you post a warning on a whole geographical region? “Breathing smoke from forest fires may be hazardous to your health.”
You can, if you choose, quit smoking cigarettes. You can’t choose not to breathe air.
Milton in Paradise Lost, Dante in The Inferno, describe in excruciating detail the all-consuming fires of hell. But they say little that I can recall about smoke from those fires. Smokeless briquettes, perhaps?
The same with the Bible. Only 38 (or 41, depending on your preferred authority) of the Bible’s 31,000 verses mention smoke at all. Mt. Sinai cloaked in smoke. God leading in a pillar of smoke. Smoke rising from the embers of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Also smoke rising from ritual sacrifices, which were supposedly pleasing to God’s nostrils. Although I suspect the smoke from King Solomon’s sacrifice of 144,000 cows and sheep in one week, to dedicate his new temple, might have stunk up the heavens worse than a neighbour’s barbecue.
By comparison, maybe the some smoke in my valley isn’t so intolerable after all.
Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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First, a notice: I expect to be on holiday the next two weeks, subject to things like forest fires. I may not be able to post columns.
Now to comments about last week’s column, on how things seem to happen in threes.
David Gilchrist saw some hope in the notion that misfortunes happen in threes: “It is so easy to assume that this business of 3s is superstition; and that we only remember the 3s because this has been brought to our attention, and don’t notice all the other numbers that occur. But that is hard to believe at this point.”
David then told of three elderly people all falling and suffering broken leg bones; two of them died. David wrote, “I hope the number 3 holds, and we don’t have any more such misfortunes.”
Tom Watson wondered, “Is that where the sermon formula of ‘three points’ came from?”
Dave Winans: “I think your friend is on to an explanation for threes’. After the third one, the capacity to experience any more emotion is shut off as a survival mechanism. Consequently, the fourth, fifth, or more may occur but don't register at the same level of intensity.”
In addition, someone (I’ve lost her letter but remember the content) thanked me for the term “compassion fatigue.” She said it explained what she was feeling as more and more bad news comes over the airwaves. Or cable. Or whatever.
Isabel Gibson: “Our use of threes is interesting -- selective perception or meaning attribution or something like that. I wonder whether languages and cultures outside the Judeo-Christian ones use three or another number as a 'hook' for investing meaning and seeing/creating patterns?”
Bob Rollwagen remains an optimist: “I keep myself open to the saying – ‘Good things happen in threes.’ When one sad thing happens, I do not go looking for two more. They [may] come in hindsight. But when a good thing happens I seek out the next two. The glass should always be half full. Positive comes with benefits. Third time lucky. Three chances for a bulls eye (Darts). Three downs (guess what) Three periods. Three can be fun.
“Sadly, the existence of grave yards of Indigenous children is not coming in threes and the lost children in these fields is not limited to threes. These are personal tragedies. the even greater sadness is that such cruelty continues in our daily humanity around the globe, and has for centuries.”
And here’s something I hadn’t known – threes are key to comedy, too. Wilda Bostwick does occasional stand-up comedy: “One makes a statement and then backs it up with three points, the first one close to the truth, the second one an exaggeration, and the third one totally off the wall.
I love that my hair went white when I stopped dyeing it.
Blessed deliverance from wondering if my roots are showing.
The money I've saved at the hairdresser has allowed me to take ten cruises.
And when I go out at night, I don't have to wear reflective clothing.”
You’ve heard of Pascal’s Wager? I was thinking of it when I wrote this paraphrase of Psalm 14.
1 Only fools say, "There is no God."
They delude themselves.
Their actions reveal their foolishness;
whatever they do turns out badly.
2 For there is a God, who exists in our relationships with each other.
This God grows in those who seek justice, show mercy, and walk humbly with each other.
3 But those who turn their backs on God will lose their way;
they will stumble in the darkness cast by their own shadows.
4 Can't they see what fools they're making of themselves?
They crunch people's dreams like popcorn;
they grow fat on others' famine.
They deny the reality of a holy presence.
5 When they discover their error, they will subside
into putrid puddles of sweat,
For they have challenged the basis of being human;
they cannot win.
6 But we who have nothing must rely on the God-presence among us.
7 Holy wholeness, save us from those who prey upon us.
Topple the proud from their pedestals,
and restore all living things in a universal Jubilee.
Then all creation will rejoice.
You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalmsavailable from Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)