a summer in smoke

“Mom, are you okay?”

My mother, who lives across the street from New York University in New York City, responded to me this morning, “It’s bad.”

What to do with the smoke from the wildfires, he asked. A fan? An air filter? She knows I’ve been through that before. She knows that I know.

I’m worried about my mom in all that smoke.

She’s 93, a revered artist and photographer, still taking the subway, having an exciting social life, and working on a book. She has survived the pandemic very well up to this point without contracting COVID. She has breathing problems. At her age, who doesn’t?

I left New York City after 9/11 to get away from air pollution in the dire aftermath. I moved to BC a month later and enjoyed the clean air.

The BC air was like the sweetest elixir, I wrote in my journal at the time. Thirteen years later the wildfires came out of control, and that sweet, clean air was gone. Now we have spent year after year of smokeless summers, where the air smelled of campfires and our eyes burned as we gazed at the dimmed sights with a mixture of dread and depression. In the city or in the desert, by the sea or on the lakes, summer was upon us, but there was no escape. The smoke darkened the prized snow-capped mountains and turned the sun above them a sickly orange.

The first time I saw ashes on my counters in Vancouver, I had some PTSD from my 9/11 experiences. The air smelled like a campfire. The mountains were obscured by a thick fog.

The summer day turned cool in the smoke. I have had to learn to live with it. We all have here in the West.

What to do with the smoke from the forest fires, my mother asks. A fan? An air filter? She knows I’ve been through that before. She knows that I know. @Linda_Solomon writes about the smoke from the wildfires blanketing the east. #WildfireSmoke

But I always thought New York City would be safe. No forests. No Smoking. Of course, that calculation was wrong. “Oh my God, you can’t see. It’s black outside. And he’s coming in too,” a dear friend in Manhattan told me on Wednesday. “It’s like the end of the world. It’s like the apocalypse. Yesterday NYC had the worst air quality in the world. Worse than Delhi, worse than China. It feels like the wrath of God.”

Smoke from the Canadian wildfires blanketed New York City on Wednesday, June 7, 2023. Photo by Serena Jost

When you think about how much the United States relies on Canadian tar sands oil to meet its energy needs, there’s a heartbreaking, poetic justice to it. Heartbreaking really.

Turn on the air conditioning and close all the windows, I tell my mom. That is what we have learned to do. Of course, my condo, like so many other houses in BC, does not have air conditioning.

Like I said, I’ve learned to live with smoke. Adjust to it. Exercise indoors if I have to. Maintain normal life, if possible. Don’t scare the children. Don’t make scrolls. Close the windows. I close my eyes. Grill if you must, but try not to breathe in the smoke. What else can you do?

If there’s one thing we know about climate change, it’s not a localized problem; We all breathe the same air. And now our wildfires are making headlines in New York City.

My mom is a powerhouse. She will be alright. If anyone can be in these times we live. She has her job. She has me. She has family and friends. she has love

To be honest, love is the only remedy I feel I can count on to get me through the climate crisis, which may very well accelerate for the rest of my life.

But love won’t stop forests from burning at an alarming rate around the world.

If the hope is to be able to see beyond where we are today to a possible better future, I remain hopeful. Fully registered. I think we can improve. Change policy. Get out of fossil oil and gas fast. Wind, solar, electric, this is how we should power our lives. ASAP Stop accelerating.

Let’s hope those in public policy-making positions see it that way, too. Otherwise, trust us out west, you’ll lower your summer expectations, hide behind shuttered windows, and mask up with those N-95s when you head out. Unfortunately, you will get used to it.

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