Dispatch from Oregon

Tomorrow, Sunday, when this is published, things will be exactly the same. The 24-hour time span between this writing and when you read this, oh dear fan, will not make a difference.

Air quality index right now: 445 parts per million. This equals “hazardous”. Also murk, dimness, thick clouds, sun a disc of neon orange that can’t warm the September air any higher than 60 degrees under this wrack. My phone still cheerily tells me today’s high will be 79 degrees. Ha! I tell it. You lie! Not down here!

Levity is easy to find. This is all so absurd. The continuous smell of smoke and thickness of the air, the layer of ash on the cars, driveway, back deck and spider webs. Stinging eyes. The dogs dislike to be outside, but maybe that’s because we dislike to be outside.

I turned the heat on for the first time in four months. And it’s only September.

Basically, when you look at any fire map, you see that the entire Cascade Range is on fire. The Cascades are like a spine traveling down the west-central areas of Washington and Oregon, colliding with the Sierra Nevadas and on down to the Mexican border. To the north, they trail into the Canadian Rockies. As far south as Mount Lassen in Northern California, the Cascade range is bumpy with volcanoes, most of which reside in Oregon. I can’t imagine what the volcanoes are thinking, looking down at flames raging through their lower slopes, slopes they helped to form with the regular application of pyroclastic flows.

Last week, our phones, local radio, and emails warned us. Rare east winds would blast down the Cascade slopes with gusts capable of blowing trees onto power lines. Also these winds would bring the lowest humidity readings we had ever seen. It was “recommended” that people avoid open-flame activities. Right.

So some fires, already mildly burning in the mountain ravines east of Salem, Eugene and Portland, three of Oregon’s largest cities, exploded in size.

Then the smoke came to camp in the Willamette Valley.

The volume and impact of the fires is hard to fathom; the media has been doing a pretty good job, although it took a while for them to shift their gaze from California to us.

Basically, when you look at any fire map, you can see that all of the West Coast is on fire. What is easy to fathom is the outpouring of help aimed at folks who have had to evacuate. All 500,000 of them. Many are housed at the Linn County Fairgrounds in eastern Albany, the county seat where we live. Most who showed up there brought their RVs. And their horses, chickens, geese, goats and alpacas. Semis started showing up with feed. People drove in with crates of water and blankets. This was three days ago.

Now, county fairgrounds all over the western part of the state are jammed with RVs.

The smoke is not expected to clear out of the Valley until mid-next week. We are told the Pacific Ocean will come to our rescue, sending the sadly-missed marine flow over the Coastal Range.

People are amazing at times like this. No matter our differences, we come out to assist. On the app Next Door, our Albany group is sharing links to assistance, volunteer opportunities and news. When one benighted member posted a link to a raving rumor—that antifa (an “organization” that doesn’t exist as an organization) set the fires—Next Door members shut the idiot down. And this from folks that I know voted for you-know-who.

Right now the sky is an interesting amber. The husband says it’s like looking through a yellow filter on a camera, used to amplify contrast in black and white film. We are seeing a world in contrast, and who knows what the final photograph will look like. But one thing is sure. It will be more interesting.

And the high temperature for the day has been reached: 60 degrees.



About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


Dispatch from Oregon — 14 Comments

  1. Thanks, Jill, for the update from your neck of the West. Even here in the “far corner” of NW Washington State, we are now blanketed with the nasty gray-yellow smoke and inching toward Extremely Hazardous air quality. Luckily, since Thor has asthma, we already had good HEPA air filters — and now that I’m down to 3/4 lung capacity, I can feel the effects, too. And that’s nothing compared to what California and Oregon are suffering. Our Governor Inslee said that we need to get used to this new normal due to climate change. Humans have really screwed up the planet, and now we’re paying.

  2. Looks very familiar: this is where we were in San Francisco on Wednesday. We’re now down to a modestly ugly 161 ppm (so there’s hope for you folks in Seattle), but the air still feels gritty. Be very sparing of yourself. As Sara says: we’re learning new ways of living in our new normal, but I can’t say I like it.

    • Answering you a week later (I’m not good, but I’m slow). Thunder and lightning blew us down from hazardous to moderate. So grateful. Hope you get some relief soon!

    • What part? Come anyway! It’s beautiful here. Yes, these fires in Oregon are unprecedented, but for me, this is the best place in the U.S.A. Beautiful weather, beautiful landscapes–and the Pacific Ocean! What more can one ask.

  3. In the SF Bay Area, I hear the onshore flow is likely to move over-ocean smoke back inland to us when we finally do get some air movement. I’m working on how to cope with that little bit of info, but I feel like I have pieces to several different puzzles trying to finish one image.
    Everyone stay safe as you can!

  4. This is heartbreaking. It is awful. I haven’t the nerve presently to make a count of the many people we care about in these three states who are being majorly impacted in all the ways, just starting with being burned out, being evacuated, the others biting their nails and feeling they are being poisoned and suffocated at the same time, while the heat in California continues to soar.

    So sorry. So very sorry.

  5. In your report you neglected to mention the Rogue Valley here in southern Oregon where we lost portions of two towns; Talent and Phoenix, where we used to live until our house and possessions disappeared in the conflagration. I don’t like the smoke one bit, but compared to what we’ve experienced, it’s not so bad…

    • I am so sorry to hear about your loss, Martin. What happened in down there is horrific. We remind ourselves every day how lucky we are, with only smoke to contend with.

  6. Up on Mt Hood we went a full week without power. PGE promised us no more than 48 hours of shut down for safety reasons because of high winds. The wind lasted longer and the damage was a lot more extensive than planned for.

    Our air is still at toxic levels on Tuesday morning. But we have power back! And a lot of spoiled food in the fridge that must be replaced.

  7. I was wondering how you were doing!! Glad to hear you’re safe–but what a headache. How’d you do with the thunderstorms the following Thursday and Friday?