Friday, September 28, 2012

3 a.m.

It's fire season in Eastern Washington. 

While we in Bermtopia have seen relatively little fire action, our brethren and sistern in central Washington and parts of Idaho have not been so lucky and are dealing with fairly large fires that have been burning for two to three weeks.

We don't have the fires, BUT we do have their smoke. Lots of it.

The smoke has been thick and heavy over the friendly skies of Bermtopia since the middle of September. They have taken on a torpid peach color, flat with the smoke converging on us from the west and south. The air is thick, faintly pulsating with dust and ash, and morning, noon and night, it smells like a thousand neighbors all revved up their barbecues, fueled with Ponderosa pine and juniper, simultaneously. Mountains and other familiar landmarks are gone for the moment, shrouded by heat, smoke and dirt.

There's a reason why they say "Bermtopia: Near Nature, Near Perfect."

Eyes constantly burning, we cough and sputter during the day. At night, we sound like a dozen John Deere tractors chugging up and down the bed. It's not pretty at the Nine-One-Four.

Ben has hated every minute of this. His need for an orderly nighttime is well known. Plus, given a dog's acute sense of smell, the acrid, voluptuous smell of smoke 24/7 has to be distressing.

Could I get a particulate count, please?
Let's just say, we've heard about his displeasure between 3 and 3:20 a.m. pretty much every night since September 11.

It begins with urgent, rhythmic pawing at the of the bed.

When that doesn't work, Ben goes to the foot of the bed, pulls himself up on his front legs and stares at us.

And when THAT doesn't get the response he's looking for, Ben comes to my side of the bed, goes nose to nose with the nightstand and stares straight ahead, panting heavily. For minutes on end. He then paws the nightstand to punctuate his annoyance with the whole smokey mess outside.

Given the right set of props, Ben has gotten pretty creative in alerting us to his aversion to the current atmospheric aberrations. In Seattle, he found my lap top on the floor, tapped the mouse pad and flooded the bedroom with blazing white light at 3:30 in the morning.

He shredded his bed after being banished to the garage one, in his opinion, too many times.

And, yes, Ben pulled the good old lock-myself-in-the-bathroom gambit one afternoon when I made a quick run to the grocery store. I was gone 15 minutes.

And, oh, there was the morning I woke to find the dog standing over my head. In bed. At 3:15. That was a rare treat.

Luckily, we have found a solution to this situation. It's called the basement. Now, each night, one of us trudges downstairs, Ben in tow, stretches out on the futon and drifts off to sleep in the cool darkness. Happy Ben curls up in a tight ball on his beloved blue chair, relieved to rid himself of the olfactory chaos raging, in his mind, outside.

It's getting better. Just two days ago I could distinguish clouds in the sky, and I saw stars this morning when I went out to get the newspaper. Ben even spent Wednesday night upstairs, stretched out contentedly at the end of our bed.

We'll be back to normal. Soon. But in the meantime, welcome to fire season in Bermtopia.


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  2. Is it always as bad as it has been this year? Was there any talk of evacuations? Our worst winter left us with no power nor heat for four days after an ice storm, but I would imagine that being surrounded by forest fires would be much more anxiety producing. Stay safe

  3. It's been the worst in Central Washington, although it's tinder dry everywhere -- the result of no appreciable rain since late June. Lots of evacuations -- people and farm animals (they opened a couple county fairgrounds to accommodate our four-legged friends) -- 4,000 firefighters at the peak of the fires.

    Ice storms are not fun either. We had a doozy here in November 1996. We were without power for about a week if you count the rolling black outs as they worked in different neighborhoods to restore power. My husband's family crashed at our house for 3-4 days because we were the only ones who had hot water!

  4. Dear Queen, that sounds much worse than berms. I've had some experience of unbreathable air [forest fires from Indonesia when I was living in KL] and it was terrible. Week upon week of itchy watery eyes and black snot. The office management handed out masks in the end and we were wearing them on the streets. Your ponderosa pine and juniper air sounds much more fragrant!

    Poor Mr Ben. He must be quite distressed to have gone to all the trouble of turning on the laptop light. [And may I say, he must be a genius to have figured that out.] Hopefully, things will return to normal soon in Btopia. Until then, take care and don't breathe too much. That doesn't sound right, but you know what I mean, I'm sure.