The rains have begun. Through this fall of fires and smoke, we have waited for the rains. Those rains came last weekend as I sat with friends around a campfire—a controlled fire unlike those that burned in the mountains to the south, east, and west of us—and we let the rain fall upon us.
The smoke of forest fires drifted to us in the middle of August, and for two full months the sky held a smoke haze. I could feel the smoke’s acrid thickness as I breathed, and it burned my eyes. One of my colleagues told me that she had put in 30-day disposable contacts just before the smoke arrived in August, but she had not changed the contacts at 30 days because the smoke adhered to the lenses. She did not want to change lenses only to have the new lenses fogged by smoke—she expected the rain within the 30 days of her disposable lenses—and that rain, she and all of the rest of us anticipated, would end the forest fires and clear the smoke. But the rains were late. Weeks late. When my colleague told me about her 30-day disposable contact lenses, they had already been on her eyes for over 50 days. The rains came when the 30-day disposable lenses had been on her eyes for 59 days.
I was with friends in the Lostine Valley of the Wallowa Mountains when the rains began. We had planned to go to a favorite spot in the Bitterroot Mountains, but that spot and the river valleys we would travel to get there were filled with smoke. One of us talked on the phone to a forest ranger, who told us there was no smoke in the Wallowa Mountains, and there was no fire ban in campsites so we could have a campfire to stay the evening chill. Our direction for the weekend was changed, and we went to the Lostine Valley.
We arrived at the edge of darkness and set up our camp. A few rain drops fell as we gathered wood for the fire. Darkness and the night chill came quicker than the rain. We put on layers of fleece, raincoats, and wore fleece hats. The campfire blazed, and the rain came. Our fire sizzled in the wet and made dense smoke that drifted eastward in the breeze of the cold, wet front. We sat in chairs in a semicircle around the fire ring. When the fire smoke coughed, catching us in its recoil, we leaned from the smoke—closing our eyes against its acrid burn. Sometimes we had to move a chair to avoid the pooling of smoke. We built the fire against smoke pools, and when the smoke behaved it blew steadily eastward, angling upward to the spruce canopy. We could not control the rain as easily as fire or smoke. We sat in the rain, letting it fall upon us, the fire keeping us comfortable in the combined chill of rain and night—it was a pleasure to think that this rain was ending the forest fires, ending the season of smoke.