Everyone Should Just Chill Out

As my dad said of the smoke that obscured the view at Baker Lake, “We can work with it.”

As a wave of Giant House Spiders migrates across our tiny house, the ever-present marmots have gone missing, and wildfire smoke chokes the mountains and rivers, it’s easy to think that we are all royally screwed.

Drawing of a giant house spider
This was the first Giant House Spider who ran under the bed. I didn’t document the rest.

We usually see the spiders at night, a shadow of long black legs in our peripheral vision, as they make their way across the bedroom carpet. The leg span of one of them fills the bottom of a large Mason jar (which is how I transport them to the neighbor’s yard). Wikipedia says they are native to Europe, though many now consider Washington and Oregon (as well as a few select locations on the east coast) their home. In the summer, the males, the really giant ones, are out cruising for ladies. And the ladies, their nests/webs… they look exactly like what rims the outside perimeter of our house, our deck and flower boxes. As soon as I sweep away the nests they are re-built, so I gave up figuring that they are, at least, managing the bug population.

With two rowdy dogs in the house, I am not surprised that our own personal marmot isn’t around, but the two that lived at the high school seemed like town fixtures. They lounged on the sidewalks, ate apples from the trees, and seemed genuinely home. Every single morning we scanned the grass on the way to the trailhead and played Find the Marmot. It became as much a part of the morning as coffee. Granted, we haven’t lived here long enough to know the full marmot cycle. Maybe they are summering in the mountains? Maybe they moved into the canyon, after all? We fear the worst (assassination, mass die-off) but hope for the best.

The sun through wildfire smoke
A silver lining of smoke is that you can look directly at the bright red sun.

My mom has been calling to talk about all the wildfires in California. Which are terrible! But hey, guess what? Oregon is on fire, too, and has been for months. British Columbia, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah… we check the Inciweb daily and monitor their progress. I have a slew of new bookmarks on smoke prediction blogs and air quality sites. After years of living in Salt Lake City, I am skilled at monitoring air quality, but watching the smoke move around based on air pressure, temperatures, and wind is taking my weather prediction nerdiness to a whole new level. However, the trick is that when a new fire starts, none of that matters. Your so-called green air day is now a purple air day, with ash falling in the air around you, a heavy-duty smell of smoke, raw throats, throbbing headaches, and warnings to stay inside because of hazardous air.

RK and I went on a mountain bike ride through a forest littered with dead trees, fallen and standing. The trail looked like it was simply a path where they had shoveled away the pine needles, which were drifted 2-3 feet high on both sides. Ten miles from town, this is a massive amount of fuel for some future fire, and it’s easy to see how lightning and random sparks can start so many fires. Nonetheless, most of these big fires are human-caused and we continue to hope for rain. Meanwhile, the sun rises and sets brilliant red and hangs like a pinkish globe in the sky.

My friend Lisa advised everyone to take extra care and chill out for a bit while the universe re-organizes itself and gets through a rough patch. So we are not freaking out. We have had a whole spider-less week. Today, the air is clear. If the marmots return soon, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that maybe we are through the worst of the hot, smoky summer.

Laurel Hunter

Laurel Hunter

Central Oregon, USA