Eclipsed by clouds
Bicycle and I (I've decided to pretend that LiO(iS) is written anonymously and give all my friends fun nicknames) went for a walk yesterday afternoon, along the bike path and up to the Raw Juice Bar and Dog Bar. I believe the dogs are fully cooked, but perhaps you can order them raw.
As we turned a corner and looked west, a giant brown cloud hung in the distance, hovering over the valley. Through it, the sun was a dim circle, and as we watched, a jet heading to Sky Harbor disappeared into the haze.
"My god, is that smog?" Bicycle asked.
What else could it be. The heat wasn't bad, but it was in the 100s as usual. It was easy to imagine a thermal inversion over the city, trapping all those fumes.
"I'd like to stop breathing, you know, but that's not really an option. How much of that are we inhaling?"
We both thought about retreating to our apartments and sealing the windows with plastic and duct tape. Who needs a red terrorist alert. The enemy are us.
I've just come back from a conference in Eugene, OR where I spent five days discussing the environment and literature, discovering amazingly hopeful stories like Gaviotas and Aprovecho, and went white water rafting down the MacKenzie River. The conference--the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment's semi-annual fling--has always been both my crisis and therapy. Each time I go, I'm overwhelmed at the progressive, meaningful and enlightening work accomplished and despondent at my trickling output. Yet the upwelling of hope present in a gathering of 600 intelligent and friendly people committed to all the right actions gives me tremendous hope--for my life and for the planet. Since 1997, I've come home from these conferences invigorated, renewed and determined that I can make an academic career relevant in the wider world and in the immediate eco-crisis of the current moment.
I've never failed to tear up at least once at these meetings. (And gosh, this will be the second post where I've admitted to bawling. This blog is in danger of sentiment overwhelming the incisive cultural commentary and cute baby pictures). This time, it was during Alan Weisman's talk about Gaviotas. The tragic juxtaposition of Columbia's violent and oppressive history and Gaviotas's near miraculous innovation and commitment to a sane and sustainable life echoed those times in my life where I glimpsed a better world: reading Dolores Hayden and James Howard Kunstler, visiting Arcosanti, meeting Richard Powers. Beyond my students thanking me for influencing their lives, these horrible revelations of what the world should be affect me more emotionally than intellectually. And I end up crying. (And let's be precise, here. By crying, I mean a very manly cry where just a few tears moisten the corners of my eyes and whereby I stoically and courageously dry them and face the challenges to come with resolve and grit that inspires admiration and swooning among young and pretty people.) Yet for me, that is the very reason I shell out close to $1000 to be there. That unveiling reminds me why I do what I do, and spurs me to do what I should do.
A few hours after Bicycle and I returned home, I saw him and his wife (Ice Skates) in the parking lot off our patio. They said the cloud wasn't smog after all. It was the coalescing smoke from the wildfires north of Phoenix. Relieved, I went inside and turned up the air-conditioning.