Hazy Shade of Summer

hazy trees 0820
The reddish glow isn’t showing up in the picture, but trust me: it’s on the trees. That’s not an overcast sky; it’s a smoky one.

We have one airless, mask-free corner at Pat’s Screen Printing. It’s the corner where the printer (since we’re generally down to one person printing at an given time) has to work. Our building is wrapped by another so we have no back door and thus very poor airflow, and the press sits in the most stultifying corner in the place. Yesterday, for the first time I can recall, the temperature was over 100 in that corner.

Hence, the mask-free zone: it is difficult to breathe in this secluded corner anyway, and the county health order provides for mask-free areas in places where health is put at risk, specifically citing heat (as in a restaurant kitchen) as a viable excuse. (We have tape on the floor to keep others at least eight feet away from the printer, who puts his or her mask on as soon as s/he steps away from the press.)

These days, though, it’s getting hard to find a place that isn’t steeped in heat, inside or out. And the air quality is deteriorating by the day.

This is because the Colorado portion of Interstate 70 is on fire, two-thirds the width of the state. We have four wildfires firing wildly, from Grand Junction to Fort Collins. The westernmost one, near Grand Junction, was caused by lightning; humans may have started the other three.

And now, Denver meteorologist Ashton Altieri tells me, the Grand Junction fire, aspiring to become the state’s historical largest (two days ago it was fourth on the all-time list; now it’s third, and a whopping 7 percent contained), is generating its own weather: dry thunder and lightning, which has the potential to touch off even more fires.

You know, we don’t have to believe in climate change, or global warming, even though the scientific record (wacky scientists) is pretty clear on cause and effect, but looking at the headline-grabbing conflagrations in California and our lesser-known flames in Colorado (not really a competition to vie for), it seems like a conversation worth having would be a discussion of the husbandry of resources.

I don’t know what we’re supposed to call them these days, but the People Formerly Known as Anasazi built very elaborate, time-tested housing into the face of cliffs around the Four Corners area of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico (probably wasn’t even a corner back in their day, those state boundaries not being on anyone’s radar then). And very abruptly abandoned all of them.

Several theories have been advanced for this departure over the years, but the one that has come into focus as those dang scientists progress is: massive drought. Those truth-telling trees and their growth rings show just how scarce water became, for an extremely prolonged time, back in the day of the No Longer Anasazi Because Apparently It’s Pejorative.

Which you could point to and say, See? It’s just a natural cycle and not any human-caused climate change, no need to panic, except for one small thing: the Peoples Before Us did have to panic. They had to leave their homes, perhaps their way of life, never to really return.

I read a recent George Sibley column in Colorado Central that I thought included a way forward in this 21st Century of Mostly Breakdown, which addressed economics as well as if not climate, at least topography.

In the column George detailed his annual work with a group organized by the Bureau of Land Management in attempting to restore a wetlands in an area west of Gunnison. But George, who is wont to think big, suggested using projects like this for a new century’s New Deal.

Rather than putting Americans back to work on infrastructure such as bridges and highways, many of which are indeed in dire need of reconstruction, George suggested attending to the infrastructure of the substructure, the planet herself.

I have read many cogent articles about the folly of trying a Works Progress Administration (WPA) type program for our roads and buildings, because the cost has screamed up so much and the work is no longer handled by people with shovels. I don’t remember the figures off-hand, but dedicating a billion dollars gets you some road mileage you can count on one hand.

But paying people to restore the Earth? That might work, although George was vague on the monetization process. If something is of value, though, generally someone will come along to monetize it. If you take a walk around my sister’s neighborhood in Arvada and survey the legions of solar panels, it’s clear someone has figured out a way to make that pay in a manner that so far hasn’t made it to a place frequently referred to as “Sunny Gunny.”

We have to value a thing to put money into it, however, and it often seems that we take the ground beneath us for granted. An ecosystem that had thrived for tens of thousands of years was destroyed, perhaps irreparably, in the American grasslands in just a couple of decades by farmers and their advisors who plowed long straight furrows and waited for rain that didn’t come, only to watch feet — not inches, but feet — of topsoil blow away, all the way to Washington, D.C., where the Dust Bowl crisis only became real the day that city was engulfed in choking black silt.

And now, as nearly every Coloradan breathes in smoke, and wilts under yet another in a string of blistering, dry days, and every inch of the state is in some state of drought, some of that “extreme,” we ought to be asking ourselves what matters most. Do we argue over the mere existence of climate change? Or do we look past the flames that cannot by any means be called “contained” at what we are losing?

Maybe someday we can move to the moon, or Mars, and start trashing those places, but in the meantime maybe we should offer some tender loving care, and investment, into the only planet we have. If that’s not a thing of value, I have no idea what possibly could be.

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