In the afternoon the wind picked up, as it does every afternoon, sweeping down from the mountains and blowing south.
I was sitting under a tree when it quickened, watching our tiny princess as she squirmed on a blanket and took in the outdoors with her Rapunzel-wide eyes. As the leaves above us began to shiver and the branches to sway, I looked up and around, gauging how long before I should take her back inside so she wouldn't get air bubbles.
I saw it in the west, a dark front leavening over the mountains there and bellying its way toward our valley. It looked lovely and cool, especially given that this was the hottest day of the summer and no rain was forecast in the near future. A surprise! We needed it. There was talk of more fires in the surrounding canyons. Our neighbors only a few miles away had been evacuated not many weeks ago, when the first fires had broken out. Luckily the wind had carried those fires away from us.
The wind grew stiffer. The baby grew restless. I scooped her up and carried her inside, busied myself with other tasks and did not really look out the window again until late evening.
What I saw was change. But not wet. Hazy. And so dry. Puzzling. Objects blurred and colors faded by a thin layer of gray, strained as a smoker's breathing. Suspended. The mountains nearest us only partially distinguishable behind the mist that was not wet and did not move. All else rendered breathless under its wispy force.
I gathered up my iPod and portfolio and headed outside to at least enjoy the coolness now that the sun was evidently obscured by those clouds I had seen rolling in, even if they weren't rainy clouds. I opened the door.
Into the smell of smoke. Thick and strong. Bitter and wild. Charged with heat. Gray and hovering, deadening any other of the usual night scents. I debated for a minute whether I wanted to go to bed smelling this way. Then I closed the door behind me and stepped fully outside into stale heat and the sooty smell.
The smoke had camouflaged the sun, dispersing its light to the point that no orb was visible behind it, just a weak diffusion. In the east there were no mountains anymore; only a wall of ash gray. Behind my house, the front had thickened to the point that I almost could not make the mountains out; fires had been finally doused there only weeks ago.
Breathing was distasteful. And warm; little of the day's heat had evaporated, pressed down by this thick daze. But with every rise and fall of my chest I seemed to mind the smoke a little less. I didn't dwell on whether that was a good thing or not.
In front of the house, traffic seemed especially busy, with bright brake lights and revving engines lending a kind of tense energy to the transfixed evening.
The thought came to my mind, Could we be evacuated? I did not know where the fire was. But if the strength of the smell was any indication, it must be close. Probably from the west, where the smoke was thickest, like an iron curtain. It had moved so quickly this way, as if it were alive. Now it just hung, soiling, over us.
I watched as a piece of ash wafted past me on a twirling current of air. Then another. Decided I couldn't do anything unless/until the cops showed up.
So I climbed onto my favorite perch, sat down on the green, still-sprinkler-damp grass and settled my back against the rough, thick trunk of an old willow tree. I watched the hurried traffic, the red glare of its lights, the activity in the neighborhood across the street. So busy for this hour in the middle of the week. I wondered...
I sat in the smell of smoke, the grass damp underneath me, the bark digging into my back (not rudely) and thought. Then I opened my portfolio and began to plan a story, one I've planned at least a dozen times and can never get quite right. I planned it again, looked up every once in a while at the breath-less scene around me, thought and invented scenarios; the sky darkened and the night waxed, the traffic loudened and the smoke unlessened. The court lights came on. Still I could not get it right.
I wonder if Nero kept fiddling because he could not get it right either.
I sat in the smoke-smell and wrote and erased and thought as the smoke hovered, the night deepened and the wind kicked up again.