Yesterday evening the smoke seemed to clear out quite a bit here in Eugene and I was so incredibly relieved, we kept talking about how rough it’s been and whew thank goodness at least THIS particular 2020 bullshit is over, and then I woke up this morning and it’s baaaaaaaack. (Sky gods: NEVER CELEBRATE TOO EARLY.)

A friend in California described living with this smoke so perfectly: It feels oppressive and surreal in a season that already felt oppressive and surreal. Our family is lucky (at least so far) in that the air quality hasn’t brought on migraines, breathing issues, or anything like that, but it’s just flat-out upsetting — dark weird light, no sunshine, a constant acrid stench of burn. Like all the doom and anxiety floating around in our brains has somehow been made physical.

The kids’ first day of school got pushed back a week, and I suspect it may be further delayed since the poor air has impacted the district’s ability to hand out devices. There are still a number of kids who haven’t been able to pick up their iPads/laptops, plus who knows how many don’t even have an actual house at this point if they were in an evac zone.

I have yet to really get into the weeds with this whole virtual school business, but it sure seems like it’s going to be … fraught. Just the process of getting signed up with Canvas and linking a student/parent account was A Whole Fricking Thing, and now that I’ve finally seen Dylan’s middle school schedule – which involves three entirely different schedules each week depending on whether it’s Day A, Day B, or Day C — I just can’t imagine how it’s not going to constantly feel confusing as hell, on top of being such a tragic overall alternative to in-person learning.

To be clear, I’m glad we were not faced with the choice of going in-person or not; I fully support the school district’s decision to start the year virtually. Still, it is hard not to mourn all the losses that brings, particularly the kids continuing to be so isolated from old friends, with essentially no opportunities to make new ones. Riley is super bummed to be starting high school this way, and even Dylan, who is not exactly Mr. Hooray for Academia, says he’d “give anything” to be in his 7th grade classes for real.

Well. What a mess. I feel like I have been saying that since March: oh, what a mess, what a terrible mess it all is. Inadequate words for a year that seems like it will never, ever end.

There are a number of terrible wildfires burning nearby right now and the valley I live in is filled with smoke. We get smoke pretty much every summer at some point but this blew in (literally, on once-in-a-generation easterly winds) within minutes and it’s worse than I’ve ever seen it before. The sun is a blood-red ball and the skies are dark greyish-yellow, casting an unsettling light that doesn’t feel anything close to normal. The air is filled with ashy particles that almost look like snow, they’re almost pretty in how they drift and dance, in the way that flames can be mesmerizing even as they obliterate.

The outside matches the inside, is what I keep thinking. Everything everywhere feels like it is burning, acres and acres that are literally engulfed and people in beds with soaring temperatures. Violence in the streets and people struggling to breathe. Angry rhetoric being spat by our great leader adding more fuel to it all.

Our phones keep jittering and buzzing with emergency alerts and everything smells black and scorched and it’s hard to remember that even after the worst fires there is new growth. It’s hard to imagine what things might eventually look like, here in the burn.

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