Sunday, April 27, 2008

Nutmeg Burning: Apocalypse Lite

It’s perfectly normal on a bright sunny day to notice the air’s a little hazy, as I did Thursday afternoon. Yet I had a vague “this isn’t right” feeling, similar to the one when you suspect you’re forgetting something important. Beautiful sunny day, windows wide open (and hallelujah it’s finally warm enough to do that), brisk breeze blowing through the house … and then I realized: I’m used to seeing haze on humid days, yet the breeze blowing through the open windows was dry.

Fluttery little black things filled the air. Insects? Flying bugs do tend to go crazy this time of year, what with springtime being their only chance to have sex before their mating season ends and they die. But these weren’t bugs getting their groove on. I stepped out onto the porch and realized there were charred bits of leaves and grass falling from the sky, ranging from near-microscopic specks to scorched-leaf flakes the size of a quarter. They weren’t overly numerous, though; maybe one little flake in every five cubic feet of air. And then the Man About The House came upstairs and said “There’s a forest fire in the hills.”

We later found out it was merely a brush fire, with no injuries or property damage reported. (There were other brush fires throughout Connecticut that day, which I hope were one-time oddities rather than an omen of what summer will bring. With luck, the brush fires burned off all the brushfuel that might otherwise have started a forest fire later in the season.)

You couldn’t see any actual flames from my place, but bright white haze filled the entire horizon behind the low line of the hilltops nearby. It didn’t look like fire-smoke, just a bright white opaque fogbank. You wouldn’t even realize the ashes came from it unless you paid attention to the wind.

Of course we’ve all seen the occasional building fire, but I’ve never been in a situation where the land itself was burning close enough for the smoke and ash to reach me. No worries, though; there’s a river between my apartment and said hills, and my side of the riverbank’s mostly paved over.

Fire or no, I got dressed and left for a meeting I’d scheduled six blocks away (job-type thing; long story). Even with the land burning just over the next ridge I wasn’t driving my car six blocks through a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood on a gorgeous, if slightly sooty, afternoon.

On my street were many puzzled people on their porches, looking out at the hazy hills. “Do you know what’s going on?” one woman asked as I strolled by, and I told her what I knew about the fires.

My street turns onto a wide concrete plaza framed by ugly 70s-modern concrete government buildings. It was deserted; the cop cars usually parked in the lot were gone, presumably so police could help the firefighters or at least divert traffic away from them. The ashes in the air were easier to see across a wide empty vista with a pale concrete background, and it looked exactly like every science fiction disaster-porn flick you’ve ever seen featuring a post-apocalyptic wasteland with charred organic matter filling the sky.

Since there was no damage done to people or property, I can say with a clear conscience this was the coolest real-life image I’ve seen all year. Damn, I wish I’d had a camcorder.


Anonymous First Little Pig said...

Try living here in New Mexico. We are now in the fire season and have already been "treated" to quite a few.

12:05 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Abel said...

True, but we don't usually have a "fire season" in Connecticut. We normally have the rainy season, the muddy season, the mosquito season and the frostbite season.

1:57 PM  

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