Air Quality Alert

We are under an air quality alert starting yesterday, continuing into today, and perhaps ending tomorrow. The bad air has nothing to do with anything around here — apparently, upper-level wind patterns are bringing in smoke from fires in states far to west of here, such as California and Oregon. Oddly, at the same time, we are under a flood watch, also not because of anything happening around here. We haven’t had much rain to speak of in months, though heavy rains in other areas of the state have pushed huge amounts of water into one of the local rivers.

It just goes to show that as isolated as we are out here on the eastern plains of Colorado, no place is really isolated any more.

Situations like this remind me of a bizarre conversation I had with a woman from my grief group in California. At the time, just like today, there were large swaths of wildfire in that state. I mentioned almost as an aside, that when I lived on the western slope of Colorado, a mere thirty miles east of the Utah border, I could always tell when fires were raging in California because of the strong smoke smell.

The woman became incensed, called me ignorant, and said that because of her science background, she knew that there was no way for me to smell smoke at that distance. I was flabbergasted, of course, and puzzled, not just because of her reaction to an innocent remark, but at how wrong she was. I don’t remember what exactly her background was, but I do seem to remember that although she wasn’t a scientist, she was telling the truth about her jobs having something to do with science. But she certainly wasn’t telling the truth about the inability to smell smoke that originated a thousand miles away. I explained about air currents, about jet streams, about wind, about all the ways smoke can be carried to distant places. I even mentioned studies showing that odors are made up of minute particles that bind to receptors in the nose, and that these particles can be blown in from far away, or merely waft in on a breeze.

Nothing I said made any difference. She continued to harangue me about her science background and my ignorance until I finally just shrugged and agreed that I didn’t have a science background, and refrained from mentioning the thousands of scientific books I’ve read.

Now that I live in an area that routinely gets inundated with out-of-state smoke, as well as the air quality alerts that result from that smoke, I’m frequently reminded of her and her utter belief that I couldn’t smell smoke that originated more than a thousand miles away.

Incidentally, the fire in the photo is the sun as it was rising through the smoke this morning, and is not a result of an earth-bound fire.

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