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A Week Under Stress

September 11, 2020
Picture of smoky orange sky in Salem, OR.

Dark orange skies in Salem, Oregon, all day on Tuesday, Sept 8, 2020.


This week has been a vision of a hell that I never imagined possible in my lifetime, especially not while living here in Oregon. Pandemic. Wildfires. Unemployed. Alone.

I need to write about this week, and I am simultaneously considering a rush to my basement to dig out the precious items I want to save, should the need arise to evacuate. Things irreplaceable: my grandmother’s antique Chinese lacquer box, which holds a great-grandmother’s amethyst ring. The many scrapbooks, of and by my grandmother (scrappy journals detailing her art adventures and mantras for living); of me as a baby, child, and teen; of Crow. Crow’s glass octopus, paid for through layaway and their own earnings. The series of rainbow belts earned by Crow in their journey to black belt in Kenpo Karate. What else? There must be innumerable items that I would be saddened to lose and would hold regret for leaving, though I understand the importance of practicing detachment. Letting go is important, too.

Picture of dark clouds covering the sun in Salem, OR.

Smoky clouds on Tuesday meant daytime, such as it was (see main photo) did not come until mid-morning.

This week has been emotionally challenging, anxiety-ridden, and stressful.

I drove home from Ashland Monday under clear skies and awoke Tuesday to a world in flames. The sky an hour after sunrise was dark, smoke-filled, not yet orange. Later, the sickly yellow-orange light was disorienting, a surprise since I normally have a strong constitution and good sense of balance. I felt dizzy looking out the window and nauseous. Similar to what I imagine car-sickness must feel like. Therefore, I occupied myself with computer tasks, faced away from my windows. Focused on constructive tasks to steady my vision and the world.

I learned the fires east of Salem had exploded overnight, leading to mass evacuations and the eventual burning of towns along the Highway 22 corridor, plus the loss of my favorite campsite and natural areas in the Detroit Lake/Breitenbush area. I was there only a month ago and had hopes of a last, late-summer solo camping excursion to sit and contemplate my future by the soothing roar of the Breitenbush River. Campsite no. 14. My mind imagines the devastation of the place, the grand trees now matchsticks, the ground charred and blackened, the wildlife terrified and running for their lives, or dead because there was no escape from the searing heat of the wicked flames. I sorrow for this scorched world.

Woman overlooking Mt Jefferson in Oregon.

A view of the Santiam Corridor to Mt Jefferson, all likely in ashes now.

Later Tuesday, a fire erupted in the northern part of Ashland, and I became worried for Crow, Karson, and my few friends who live in the area. Crow and Karson came under Stage 1 evacuation orders (“Be Ready”), so they decided to pack up and head out to their respective parents’ homes. Crow packed plants, food, computers, quilt, clothes, and cat. There was, however, no way to evacuate as roads north were closed because of the fire. It was a relief when Crow texted they were back home and making “tea and bacon”.

I brought up my cat crates and suitcases from the basement storage, preparing for my own “Be Ready” evacuation (just in case). Unfortunately, the sight of the cat carriers was enough to drive my cat, Snow, into the bathroom cupboard, where she has been hiding for the past four days. I am working to coax her out, but she is nervous. I wonder if this is her in-born instinct to “hide” from what her senses must rightly perceive as a threatening event.

Picture of Butter Mochi on the stove.

The pan of Butter Mochi before I dug in.

In the late afternoon on Tuesday, I made a new dessert, Butter Mochi, and then stress-ate a third of the pan. Unfortunately, I forgot to consider the ramifications of eating that much processed sugar after having a relatively clean and processed-sugar-free diet for the past six months. I woke up in the wee hours of Wednesday morning with congestion and a cough: asthma attack. I attribute the attack in part to the sugar, an inflammatory for my bronchii, and in part to the particulate matter in the air. Thankfully, my inhaler was close by and my breathing soon quieted.

I woke up Wednesday morning, determined to reach fresher air. A friend mentioned air purifiers, so that became my additional quest, as there were none available in Salem. The internet said there was a “limited stock” of air purifiers at a Walmart in NE Portland. I headed out. I found beautifully fresh, blue skies in Portland, bought the air purifier (one of two left on the otherwise empty shelf), then headed home to clear the air in my apartment after a brief visit with a friend in Tigard, where smoky clouds were just beginning to roll in. A comfort food dinner and all was as well as could be expected.

Picture of a Korean meal.

Tuesday dinner: Korean-style rice bowl with pear sauce, homemade kimchee, and peeled rambutan. Cheerfully colorful and blissfully healthy!

Home again, I hunkered down, wandering between Facebook, news media, texting to ensure friends were safe, looking through photos of my favorite places and grieving the tremendous losses of place occurring. I purchased renter’s insurance, took photos of all the things on my bookshelves and around my apartment, contemplated quantifying the contents of all the boxes in my basement.

Today the weather is somewhat improved; although still smoky, the light outside almost normal (i.e. not sickly yellow). I found a bundle of three half slices of bacon in my freezer. Happiness! I started cooking them, then realized that frying foods is not recommended right now, with the apartment buttoned up and windows shut. I created my own poor interior air quality. Whoops! Ah well, turn the air purifier on high, enjoy my bacon, eggs, and potatoes and damn the consequences, which can’t be much worse than a stroll outside right now.


I am back at the computer, having found most of my grandmother’s scrapbooks, my and Crow’s baby books, a few favorite stuffed animals and books, and the antique Chinese box. I still have a few things to find in the basement, the car is packed with camping essentials, and my suitcase is loaded with a mix of work clothes, sewing and knitting projects (yes, these are important), and a few beloved books and videos. As I look around my home, I can vaguely imagine the deep sense of loss I would feel at coming back to find my plants, antique furniture, musical instruments, clothing, and boxes of memories—the stuff of life—gone, vanished in a fury of wind and fire.

It has been a stressful week.


If you are able to help those in need who have, in fact, lost everything, please contact your local Red Cross to volunteer or donate.

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