Fire and Brimstone

I’ve been all choked up lately — literally and figuratively.

Monday, I wrote that the air here was horrible. Well, it is way, way worse today. The air is thick with the stench of burning ashes. People are coughing, wearing respiratory masks, and gobbling up Advil for headaches.

There is a worried look in most people’s faces (of course, there are plenty of the typical denier types who are out playing tennis and sitting in outdoor cafes). But a good many people have furrowed brows, concerned about people they know up north.

We’re also very concerned about ourselves, about the effects of breathing air so unhealthy that the experts have never seen anything like it, including after the l991 Oakland hills fires. And then there is the greatest fear of all: can this catastrophe happen here?

So it’s a scary and miserable scene. I was woken up in the middle of the night from the intense smell of smoke. I had unwisely cracked my window open a tad so that I didn’t pass out from the heat in my very hot house. But my doing so quickly filled the bedroom up with smoke.

Feeling nauseous around 5 am, I headed to the kitchen to sit down and get some water. But the bad air had leaked in there, so no escape was possible.

Almost no one has air conditioning around here, including me. So the radio interview I heard this morning from the expert in Southern Cal about how to cope with the noxious air (“Run your air conditioners”) wasn’t particularly helpful. Many of us are resorting to wearing respiratory masks, even the strongest, space age-like ones that you see in movies.

So I’ve been choking up from all the smoke. But I’ve been also choking up from the terribly tragic news from up north, which is bringing me to tears throughout the day.

Although I am generally news phobic, I’ve been glued to the news reports about the wildfires in the North Bay. Part of it is self-serving, of course. Until the fires are out, we in the Bay Area are being subjected to dangerously unhealthy air.

But I am also deeply upset about what is going on up there. You see, the North Bay is practically an extension of the SF Bay Area. Most people know someone up there.

And many Berkeley folks have moved out of the insane Bay Area for quieter and more peaceful locales north. And, for those of us stuck in the city, Northern Cal is a wonderful vacation from the madness that is the SF Bay Area.

It’s just much nicer there. Sure, the north is getting expensive and more crowded; but it’s nowhere near as packed and costly as where I live.

While the hype about the SF Bay Area is that we live in the greatest area in the whole world, that just isn’t true. Yes, there’s theater in SF — but one has to endure bumper-to-bumper traffic, and walk a gauntlet of thugs and aggressive panhandlers.

Sure we have nature here. But we’ve also had some violent crimes up in the hiking trails, including a murder in the Oakland Hills. So when feeling nature-starved, many of us head north.

I have so many wonderful memories of day trips and vacations up north. Northern California is beautiful, with its forested, lush hills, rivers, and the Pacific Ocean. When my health was better, I went up there all the time.

I loved Calistoga (now evacuated) and its quaint little shops and restaurants. I would stay in a sweet cabin, and enjoy the hot tubs during the day. The Russian River was probably my favorite; I still remember lazy afternoons playing in the river or renting a canoe to head down the gentle stream.

Santa Rosa, which has been hit hardest by the fires, is (was??) a vibrant city. It has all the benefits of an urban setting, such as tons of stores and restaurants, but also exquisitely beautiful nature.

Many times I’ve dreamed of moving to one of the counties up north. It’s a rare Bay Area resident who hasn’t considered relocating to Sonoma County or Napa, Mendocino, etc. And scores of people do; they cash in big on houses and head off to calmer digs up north.

So the wreckage up north is personal to most long-term residents around here. And, of course, we in the Bay, are suffering too, by being trapped inside or choking from toxic air.

If you’ve read my posts before, you know that my thoughts always return to God. It is hard not to think of Him at this moment in time — of how little we are compared to His enormous power.

We humans walk around thinking that we have all the control in the world. We build little oases in our houses that, in a second’s time, can be reduced to rubble.

We create relationships that mean the world to us; and yet these too will end: through arguments, through divorce, or, eventually, through death.

The fire in the sky makes me think of God’s fire, too, because fire represents God in the Bible. This is why, in the Roman Catholic Church, during the Easter vigil, the priest lights a bonfire outside the church.

The parishioners then enter the darkened church carrying only lit candles. These are powerful reminders that Christ has come into the world — and that without Him we are in utter and profound darkness.

I pray that these national catastrophes lead people to Him. Because in the end, we will have nothing: no cars, no houses . . not pretty dresses or high-tech toys.

We will only have Him. But only if we choose Him, now, before it is too late.

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