butter and maple syrup

This morning I toasted waffles for Oliver Fern, leftovers from Adam’s birthday breakfast. Oliver likes his butter and maple syrup. He was devouring them (the waffles, too) just three minutes before class and here came Adam gingerly climbing the stairs which corkscrew from the not-so-very-nice basement where he has spent the past several nights sleeping on a practically dirt floor with the spiders, tools and musty laundry because his room upstairs has been getting close to ninety degrees despite my best efforts blocking all flicker of sunlight with bedsheets and towels. Along with no insulation inside of the walls, this old house has double hung, single pane windows which freely allow the transmission of confused bumblebees and outside air, to the indoors. Sleeping next to the washing machine is just a temporary arrangement but as he grasped upwards on the handrail for balance, squinting into the light of the kitchen and scrunching his itchy face in that ghastly orthodontic mask, Adam at first resembled something out of a horror movie. He takes the mask off in the morning, transforming into a studious junior high pupil.

It’s not just hot. The air’s really bad having swirled north up the coast from fires in California and Oregon. The front porch smells like an ashtray and the valley’s a dense curtain of gray murk which induces strange respiratory sensations. We’ve got fires of our own, mixed up with the California and Oregon smoke. Our drafty old windows are a trivial inconvenience considering the horror the fires have wrought down south. People are living out of cars and trucks after their homes were burned to the ground. But even here the smoke is hazardous to breathe, a daunting combination with COVID-19. We’re keeping a couple of old HEPA air purifiers blasting away, nonstop. They’re left over from when Adam was younger and he struggled with asthma (thankfully he outgrew it). The boys haven’t been out of the house for several days on account of the smoke but there’s a chance of precipitation on Monday. The calm of last summer now seems like a mirage. Two out of the past three years, August or September have been smoky.

This frame from a couple weeks ago is when we were looking for a little lake up north that turned out to be more of a marsh. The reflection is the thing, for me. It’s not even part of the focal point but I love how you almost can’t tell what you’re looking at, it’s so still. I was hurrying to take advantage of the stillness before the boys turned the surface of the water into a chaos of concentric rings. There were frogs in here. Oliver likes holding them in the palm of his hand but he’s so afraid of hurting their slippery bodies, they easily jump to their peril.  They seem all right (they get away) but they’re not very good at landing on their feet, like the myth about cats.

We’re not usually walking to the gunkholes (quieter) this time of year but the mountains have been chockablock with riff-raff, this summer. Everyone from tattooed hipsters, vanlife scenesters to horny panhellenics have been leaving clumps of toilet paper behind every other tree and campfires smoldering unattended (we’ve found them). Ugh. It’s a bad state of affairs but it’s not really new except the pandemic has heavily concentrated a lot of desperate people into the mountains, magnifying the most clueless of the lot. Some of the carelessness obviously has had devastating consequences. The fires that incinerated the parched countryside on the other side of the Cascades last week were mostly human-caused (and super-fueled by catastrophic climate change-related factors).

postscript: Wrote this on Thursday or Friday, last week. The pall of smoky air over Seattle is still remarkably hazardous. Adam had headaches all day on Sunday and I woke up this morning with a green nose, one can logically assume both may represent some kind of inflammatory response to the icky air. The onshore flow which overnight was supposed to start moving air out of the Sound and produce rain, stalled out over the Pacific. Still, I filled the birdbath for the Scrub jays and watered the flowers, this morning. Haven’t seen the bunny that lives under the shed, for a few days. Adam’s sitting through physics in the dining room and Oliver just gave me the peace sign through a crack in the pocket doors (he’s stationed at the rickety card table in the living room). Remote learning is going to be a lot weirder, harder than I anticipated. The boys have completely different, overlapping schedules full of confusing breaks and stoppages. Oliver has thirty-seven children in his remote-learning class.

8 thoughts on “butter and maple syrup

  1. A truly unforgettable year this is for you Jason and not in a good way. Sure we all try to stay positive and together, it just feels like a massive test at the moment. You have it much worse in the US I feel, with the fires and upcoming election craze… Sending you fresh air and rain from Europe, we are about to have a few days of thunderstorms. Take care!

    • I really like the sound of fresh air and rain from Europe. We’ve also got a storm coming off the Pacific that’s due to arrive on Thursday night so we’ve got our fingers crossed. Thanks a lot for stopping by, Yuri. Maybe you’ll get a chance to get outside with the camera right after one of those thunderstorms. I’ll be looking to see if you get anything.

    • Thanks Jim. Both of the boys are very resilient and positive about anything schjool-related even the remote-learning stuff so they’re rolling pretty good through all of this and my oldest is clever at troubleshooting computer problems so he has bailed us out a couple of times with the school-issue laptops. but they’re both starting to count down when they can go outside again. they were doing jumping jacks for fun, last night

  2. Wow, 37! Not something I’ve ever studied, but it seems like Washington must still be the outlier for class size, or is this specific to the remote-learning? I really enjoyed the snatch of snark – “chockablock with riff-raff,” hipsters, etc. When I was in NY a few months ago, we walked in a park south of Syracuse on a Saturday, maybe near Cortland, and the first few hundred yards near any parking area were rife with people who clearly weren’t used to walking in the woods. Walking in flipflops, dragging strollers with little plastic wheels, and yelling questions about the significance of different-colored trail markers. “Hey bruh is this supposed to be red or orange or what??? There’s supposed to be a pond, right??” If I had a sack, could’ve made a couple of bucks picking up beer cans.
    My relatives in Utah are staying inside, too, they were saying they couldn’t see the other side of the Cache Valley for quite a few days. Hope some clean air is coming your way.

    • It did occur to me I sound a little snooty, a gatekeeping “get off my lawn” curmudgeonly codger LOL Here is a lot like you describe that park near Syracuse. So many people in the city or bigger towns have a lot of their options for daily life pared down with things like bars, restaurants, sporting events ,museums and other social outlets under restrictions. I’m so grateful for a little elbow room in our neigbho rhood. just being able to go out on our back porch is nice. earlier this summer I had plans to take the boys to a lot of places close to home they’d never been but we figured out quickly those spots are overflowing. It might be good preparation for all the people who will be moving here from Calfiornia and parts of the south. If Oliver was a little bit older, we could get just far enough into the backcountry to leave people behind but I haven’t felt like doing overnights this summer. We’ve stayed in the 7-8 mile range for our walks. That’s kind of the sweet spot for everybody else around here!

      Today was supposed to be one of the worst days for smoke but the air index actually improved as the day went on. The sun even barely made an appearance, it was a orange orb that gave everything an eerie cast. Btw about the class size……37 is definitely due to remote learning. We about fell out of our chairs. But both of the boys have had 30+ classmates in their rooms the past few years. Our district is really struggling.

  3. Gosh what a time TF. There is nowhere to go to escape the smoke right now. Not even the coast, which is usually pretty reliable for cool clean air. I saw a photo someone had shared from New Foundland where all this smoke has produced hazy skies, and a friend in Tennessee reported the same! Hope that rain pans out for us and that California gets a good measure also. A sweet young friend of mine had to evacuate from her little forest workers village in Mt. Hood N.F. at 3 am the other night while her husband was away in CA fighting fires. Their rental did survive, but the line of fire was licking right at the edges of it, and they won’t get back in there for at least a couple of weeks. This is monumental stuff. I’m so glad your boys are getting in their lessons and that they are resilient and studious and have you to take them on outings in spite of all the chaos. Take Care of you and yours.

    • Looks like you have a little sooner chance of rain than we do.I really hope you get some since you’re closer to Portland. I looked at the AQI for Longview, it’s right around Seattle levels. That’s surprising. I was worried it could be far worse. Thought it’s still pretty bad. I hope your friend and her husband both will stay safe, it’s heartbreaking they’re dealing with the fires in both the field and the more personal level. They deserve/should get triple hazard pay. this morning I was thinking a lot about occupational exposures with the smoke and long term effects.

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