Winter decided not to gift New Mexico with any snow this year. Which means we're destined for a pretty bad fire season this summer. It didn't take long for them to begin. The Wallow fire just over the state line in Arizona is huge and out of control, having spread to over 500, 000 acres at the time of writing. Smoke from the fire has spread as far as the Great Lakes region, 1600 miles away.
I first noticed the smoke one night coming out of work. The smell was obvious, though at first I thought it must've been more local. On the drive home, the haze in the air reminded me of the summer fogs of Santa Barbara, the street lights at the 599 highway exits glowing like the alien ships in the 'War of the Worlds.' As I approached my house, I noticed people standing in front of their houses, staring south into the desert. The air was much more acrid here, the fire close. Was there a brushfire out in the desert? I looked awhile for the telltale glow on the horizon, but not seeing any, frantically looked online for any information. I figured that if the fires came close, the sound of firetrucks would wake us from our sleep.
In the morning, my truck was covered with ash. Taylor and I drove over to the Jemez to hike Cerro Grande trail. This is the site of a May 2000 fire which destroyed hundreds of homes and threatened Los Alamos labs. Even 11 years later, the slopes of the lower forest have not fully grown back, with a large number of trees twisted and blackened. The hike is short but notoriously steep, including a final ascent that is essentially a straight line up the mountainside. I'm usually a pretty solid hiker, but today I was incredibly winded. Every burning breath was a gift in the spiritual sense, a chance to be nowhere else but in the 'now.' From the summit, few of the surrounding ranges were visible, but we found consolation in watching the great herds of elk down in the Valle.
As the days went on, it began to be like a Sci-Fi film. The air at night was less and less the soft, blanket of fog of the coast, and more like a glimpse of a post apocalyptic world. One night in particular it sat on us like a yellow lid. I thought at first that a much needed storm was rolling in, only to step outside and be hit once again by the smoky smell. The sunsets that week were incredible, a testament to the similarity of how water and smoke refract light.
A few days later I was driving past an arroyo near our home, when Miki asked me if they had done a controlled burn there. I immediately said yes, but a day later, I noticed that the trees too had been stripped by fire. That explains the thick smoke that first night. Had that fire not been extinguished quickly, it would've probably reached our house within an hour.
Arizona, meanwhile, continues to burn...
...and so does Santa Fe National Forest. I wrote the above a week ago, and few days later, a pillar of smoke began to rise over our mountains. It is spreading slower than the Arizona fire, but the winds are once again up today. I pray for rain. This being my last summer in New Mexico, I had hoped to spend much of my time in the hills. But the entire Pecos is closed as precautions, as is Bandalier, the Sandias, and the Carson forest near Taos. There will no hiking for anyone this summer, until the monsoons come.
Again, I pray for rain...
On the turntable: Elvis Hitler, "Hellbilly" On the nighttable: Joan Mellon, "The Waves at Genji's Door"
A decade ago, on a visit to the States from my home in rural Japan, I entered for the first time that yuppie food mecca of Whole Foods. I'd been struggling for years as a vegetarian in a country that had forgotten that that had been its traditional diet for centuries. After WWII, when the nation was occupied by an army of big-bodied meat eaters, animal parts were seen as a status symbol, a way of elevating you above your poor, malnourished, millet-eating neighbor. The custom stuck and by the '90s, finding a restaurant meal sans meat was an exercise in developing the purest Zen-like patience. Pork oil in the ramen. Beef stock in the soups. The real whack of the keisaku was settling yet again on a salad, only to find bacon in the dressing. I eventually found Tengu Foods in Saitama, and mail order became a monthly exercise, though admittedly, this wasn't the most eco-friendly, sustainable solution. Thus, entering Whole Foods was an epiphany. In the States, I could eat in a way that was healthy for both myself and the planet. I toyed with the idea of returning to America within the year.
Life is a fickle percussionist, and I didn't get back here until a year ago. And now, I can barely stand Whole Foods, the extremities of its prices nearly equaling that of the pretension. Meanwhile, I've been visiting the blogs of a handful of expats who've done an I-turn into the Japanese countryside. Many have recipes included. So here I sit, mouth watering over photos of homegrown veggies, mulling a possible return to that great supermarket without walls...
On the turntable: Everything but the Girl, "Baby, The Stars Shine Bright" On the nighttable: Yoshida Kiju, "Ozu's Anti-Cinema" On the reeltable: "Food, Inc."