By BOB WIRE
Eye-watering, lung-squeezing, sinus-searing smoke from surrounding wildfires is one of the prices we pay to live in this amazing place we call Missoula. (That, and no Red Lobster.)
I’m sure we’ve all had our fill of smoke, and if you’re like me, you’d gladly trade what few days of summer warmth we have left for a cold snap and the Labor Day Monsoon that will end the fire season.
But until that happens, forget trying to avoid it. It’s insidious. It’s everywhere. You can’t escape it. It’s like bluegrass.
What can you do? Although the standard warnings include staying inside with your windows closed, that doesn’t actually help. Unless your house is as airtight as the bung hole on a harbor seal, the smoke will get in. It doesn’t help to wear a paper mask, a wet bandanna, or even a respirator. Like Ron Paul at a national political convention, the smoke will find a way in.
When the air quality hits a Stage One Alert here, the health department declares that the air is unhealthy for “sensitive groups.” This includes the very young, the very old, those with asthma, and individuals who are prone to hyperventilating, such as the permaculture practitioner who is telling you that you should never ever eat any prepared chicken from anywhere ever, because it’s all injected with ammonia and the spoor of Satan himself.
One way to minimize the effects of the smoke is to hang out at a place with a decent air filtration system. A brew pub in Stevensville has such a system, but you’ll have to make the sacrifice of drinking up to three pints of cold, delicious microbrew. Hey, a guy’s gotta breathe, right?
I don’t even know where you can drive anywhere in the region to get away from it. Go south and you pass through the Bitterroot Valley, a very popular destination for wildfires, and on into Idaho, where most of the smoke we’re breathing originates.
This is Montana, baby–any direction takes you into a massive forest crammed full of trees that are just standing around waiting their turn to burst into flames and send smoke into Wyoming, Colorado, and North and/or South Dakota.
But I do think it’s probably the worst here in Missoula Valley. Always has been. The very topography and geographical features of this cheekbone of the state ensures that smoke and pollution will hunker down and fill the valley like so much gray milk left over from a bowl of Lucky Charms.
The winter version of this topographical chokehold comes in the form of inversions. It’s mostly self-inflicted, and it’s not just a modern problem, Mr. Send All Woodstoves To The Bottom Of The Sea. Look at a photograph of the Missoula Valley from 500 years ago (okay a photograph of a painting), when the population was 100% Indian, and the first snowmobile had yet to whine through the foothills, chewing up the terrain and scaring the crap out of all the sabertooth tigers and passenger pigeons.
What you’ll see is a valley floor dotted with tipis, each buckskin cone issuing a tendril of smoke through the hole in the top, or the “ch’xgx’doink” (literally, “the place where the poles come together”). The valley air was choked with soot and smoke. Visibility was squat, and the air smelled of burned huckleberry cobbler, roasted whitefish, and bison farts. No alerts were issued; the Indians knew it was time to head north when the smoke got so thick they could no longer see the very old and the very young falling over.
About the only thing we can do in the Missoula Valley is to avoid causing any more fires while we’re conducting our search for oxygen.
No campfires, no backyard bonfires, no freebasing near that pile of oily rags in your meth lab. You know, the usual precautions.
This year the outdoors are extra dry. There have been reports of algae fires on the Clark Fork. Foliage in the Rattlesnake and Pattee Canyons is crispier than the skin on Double Front chicken, and Smoky Bear has hopped a freighter to New Zealand. It’s bad.
So be extra careful out there. Folfers, no more weed breaks on #10 at Blue Mountain. Brownies are safer. High school science teachers, no more lighting your Bunson burner with that friction sparky thing. This is a good time to study cold fusion. Chunky hikers, no corduroy pants in the woods. Friction=heat=fire. Sure, that zip-zip-zip noise keeps the bears away, but it’s just not worth the risk.
Folks, the regional media is in a full-throttle panic about the High Danger Red Flag Maximum Wildfire Warning Watch that is a result of the driest August in almost one year. So let’s be extra vigilant and we can get through this crisis together. Don’t burn the candle at both ends. No sparking of ideas. No calling an old flame. No heated discussions, no warm embraces.
I’ll be out front with a garden hose, ready to douse any smoke-causing fires within a 50-foot radius.
Keep your powder damp, my friends.
Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.
Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.
Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.