Life in perpetual smoke

First of all…I am (at the moment) nowhere near any active big fires.

However, the Oregon wildfires have had some impacts on me–emotionally, as places I knew as a child and young adult either went up in flames or have been under threat. But I’ve had a lot of friends affected by the fires. Some have lost homes and vacation cabins. So far no deaths. The Holiday Farm fire near Eugene was very visceral, especially as my old high school was first an evacuation center, then was under assorted evacuation warnings. The small valley northeast of Eugene where I lived from ages 9-20 was evacuated and under threat. One of my favorite places in the Eugene-Springfield area, the McKenzie River corridor, was hard hit by the fires. And while I knew places up the Santiam, I just never have had the same connection to Detroit etc that I did to Blue River. Difference between childhood and adult lives, I guess.

There’s been a more tangible affect from the fires, though, and that’s been heavy smoke. Ever since the winds shifted back to a normal seasonal flow of sorts, my small town three hundred miles from those big Cascade fires has been buried in smoke. Not to the same degree as Portland, Seattle, Salem, and Eugene…but still hovering around 200 AOI for nearly a week.

One problem is that my sinuses (but fortunately not my lungs, apparently) are very reactive to smoke. Legacy of growing up with heavy cigarette smokers and then spending several weeks every summer experiencing smoke from grass seed field burning in the lower Willamette Valley. Back in the 60s and very early 70s there weren’t many regulations about field burning, and it was considered necessary to sterilize the field against weeds and other problems after harvest. I do remember the awful day (Black Tuesday? Friday?) when Eugene and Springfield got socked in with smoke so bad that the skies were a lot like we’re seeing in pictures of the Willamette Valley under 500+ AQIs.

After that, there were plans to only burn when the winds blew in a certain direction. But…that brought the smoke from the Willamette Valley into that little valley where I lived. It wasn’t at the same sustained level as the current wildfire smoke–that is, it would clear out from day to day. All the same, I had a lot of smoke exposure. When I became an adult, my reactive sinuses kept me from doing a lot of barhopping because…well, I’d get nailed by cigarette smoke. Going to a bar to hear a band–or just about any venue in that era–meant dealing with smokers and exposure issues.

When the wildfire smoke settled in here, in NE Oregon, at first I wasn’t too worried. We’ve dealt with heavy smoke before and I wasn’t reactive.

Not so this time. By the second day of heavy, choking smoke, my sinuses were shutting down and I was having problems. Oh, the pulse oximeter said I was all right, so it was just the sinuses flaring bad. I ended up grabbing one of the N95 dust masks with valves to wear inside to see if that helped, and started running a small essential oil diffuser with just water in it to see if that helped (note: I CAN’T DO OILS WHEN MY SINUSES ARE LIKE THIS. PLEASE DO NOT START RECOMMENDING THAT I USE OILS OR HERBS OR ANYTHING AROMATIC. THE SCENT MAKES THINGS WORSE IN A SINUS FLARE. I WILL YELL AT YOU IF YOU DO.). It did, and I didn’t need to take any decongestants–yay.

That was a week ago. I’m still wearing the mask during the daytime because my sinuses are much happier with me when I do.

Yesterday, I took advantage of diminished levels to ride my horse from one pasture to another. It knocked me out afterward because “diminished levels” still meant an AQI of 170 or so.

But progress is happening. The AQI is declining by ten points a day now. We have an air purifier on order, as well as a bigger humidifier/diffuser.

I can even go for short periods during the day without wearing the mask.

All the same, this is one thing from my childhood that I really am not thrilled about reexperiencing. Sigh.

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