Wild vs prescribed: Your lungs don’t care

Smoke from AZ prescribed burn impacts NM

Here in the Southwest we usually have very low humidity, which means our air is extraordinarily clear.  Being able to see mountains 50 and more miles away is common.  This also means that visibility can be used to assess air quality by anyone, as long as you have an idea how far away things are.

According to NM Environmental Public Health, if your know your distances and the objects aren’t easy to see in the specific ranges, then you should adjust your activities to protect your heart and lungs.  No mention of sending complaints to the agencies responsible for the smoke, but I do recommend you do that.

Visibility distance Recommendation
5 miles If you can see less than 5 miles, the air quality is unhealthy for young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory illness; they should minimize outdoor activity. These people should reschedule outdoor recreational activities for a day with better air quality. It is okay for adults in good health to be out and about but they should periodically check visibility especially when fires are nearby.
3 miles Young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory illness should avoid all outdoor activities. These people should stay indoors. All outdoor activities should be avoided, including running errands. Everyone else should try to stay indoors as much as possible. All outdoor recreational activities should be rescheduled for a day with better air quality.
1 mile If you can see less than 1 mile that means the air quality is unhealthy for everyone. People should remain indoors and avoid all outdoor activities including running errands. Unless an evacuation has been issued, stay inside your home, indoor workplace, or in a safe shelter.

Unfortunately, our public resource management agencies are not very interested in the impacts of their actions on human beings, even though the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires agencies to evaluate the environmental and related social and economic effects of their proposed actions.

The agencies are good at spinning NEPA requirements.  So sure, they evaluate (more or less), but that’s about it.  Somehow evaluation never pans out into modifying their actions so as to minimize negative impact on humans or the environment itself.  Resource management agencies decide in advance what they’re going to do, and compliance with NEPA is just a burden.  Thus there’s a lot of paperwork but little positive and lasting effect from agency actions.  What are the results of the actions supposed to be?  Healthy forests, not burnt stumps, for starters.   Clean air, too.

When I have contacted USFS and asked how much smoke particulate and CO2 a specific fire is dumping into the air the most common response is they don’t know but they are in compliance with the law.  An actual quote from one such response from the Gila National Forest:  “We do not have predicted measurements for anticipated CO2 and particulate matter.  But, every prescribed burn must have a burn plan, and we must ensure that we are in compliance with New Mexico Environmental Department’s Air Quality Bureau.”

Well, gee, that’s reassuring.  NOT.

They’re killing us with the letter of the law

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says “Wildland fires produce air pollution that impacts people’s health and other aspects of daily life… putting more people at a health risk from exposure to smoke.”

Wait, wait. Something doesn’t make sense here.  >> On the one hand government agencies are telling us to protect ourselves from smoke because a) it could kill us directly, and b) it could kill us indirectly (carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is on the rise, contributing to global warming).  >> Yet on the other hand government agencies that are supposed to be in charge of keeping our forests and wildlands healthy don’t have to even estimate and disclose to the public how much those fires contribute to the particulates that destroy lungs, the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses that are destroying our environment?

Huh?

It boils down to this:  Plants soak up carbon dioxide and turn it into leaves and branches.  Plants trap carbonBurning plants — trees, brush, flowers, grass –releases carbon into the atmosphere Not to mention the crap that goes into our lungs.

I can tell you that my lungs don’t know the difference between the smoke that comes from from prescribed vs wildfires, and I doubt the lungs of the people, wildlife, and livestock downwind from fires know the difference, either.

Isn’t it time for resource management agencies to get on board with protecting our planet?’

Seems to me it’s simply common sense to do whatever possible to avoid wildland fires, whether prescribed or “natural”?  I don’t just mean you and me, either.  I’m pretty sure Smokey Bear also meant resource management agencies.

 

 

 

Eat and be eaten

Bread loafOne of the components of dough is yeast, and yeast is a living being. It has been dormant but wakes to its potential when given food and water.  Food and water — along with a few other things — are what all living things on this planet need to survive.

Because they are living things I think of yeast as little beasties that I’ve given the opportunity to make whoopee in wet flour. They live, they eat, they digest, they multiply to eat some more, and in the act of doing so they transform flour + water into bread dough.

And then I kill them.

All things eat, all things are eaten

The above phrase is either a quote or, more likely given my faulty memory, a paraphrase from a science fiction book I read years and years ago. I don’t remember the author’s name, the book’s title, or much of the plot – but I remember that phrase because it is a truth that I remind myself of often.

I feed the yeast and the yeast feeds me. The little beasties perform an everyday kind of act that is easy to let pass by without acknowledging the miracle of transformation and the sacrifice involved. The living beings that are yeast will ultimately be given to the heat of the oven, where they will die. What is left is the structure they’ve built for me, a loaf of bread.

Keeping this in mind as I mix flour, salt, yeast, and water, then let it rise, fold it to give the yeast more to eat, and eventually bake the dough in the oven, makes it easier for me to remember to be grateful for my bread and all the food that I eat.  Gratitude is the only way to survive the harsh reality of eat and be eaten that describes life on this plane of existence.

No-knead bread recipe

More bread

Selfie with yucca crownBefore I say anything about bread I want to say something about the image posted here.  This is my version of a selfie.  I take photos of my shadows and mess with them.

This one particularly pleases me.  It’s called Self-portrait with yucca crown.  It would make a great album cover if I ever recorded an album (don’t hold your breath on that one — the world is not ready for my ukulele playing).  I have put it on the back cover of my limited edition chapbooks, though, and it looks pretty cool there I think.

So about that bread

I like making bread.  It’s not hard using the recipe I’ve shared with you and I like not buying bread from the store.  But I also like that making bread is such a great metaphor for the writing process.

Making bread and writing?  Well, yes — my writing process at least.

Bread dough is amazing stuff.  There are only three ingredients needed:  flour, yeast, and water.  And writing is an amazing process, too, if you’re crazy enough to be serious about it.  There are only three “ingredients” to writing:  writer, ideas, and writing implements.

Oh wait, there’s a fourth and fifth ingredient for each:  time and peace.

Bread dough ingredients get mixed together and then the yeast needs to be left alone.  No poking at it.  No jiggling it around.  No interruptions and no hurrying it along.  I’m convinced bread rises better and ends up tasting better when the rising is done in an emotionally peaceful environment, too, but that’s a subject for another blog post.

So yeah, it does seem to me that making bread is just like writing.  A writer needs the time to write and the peace to write — at least this writer does.  I can’t happily write if I feel the psychological equivalent of poking, jiggling, interruption, or hurrying.  I am in awe of those writers who can create novels by stealing a few minutes here and there from their busy lives, but I need time and peace.  Blocks of time and the peace of no interactions with the outside world.

That’s why I’ve designated the month of April as a writing month (I already take November for participating in NaNoWriMo). This is my time and peace month, when I’ve myself permission to just say no to everybody. No I can’t go anywhere, no I can’t take the time to __(whatever)__.  For a hermit like me it’s a relief to be antisocial anyway, but to be creative I have to get aggressive about guarding my time and peace.

It truly is more than just luxury to be able to settle into the world I’m writing about and just hang out there. Time and peace allow the yeast of my imagination to give form, breadth (oooh, see what I did there), and depth to my ideas.  Immersion in the world I’m building protects the dough of creativity that’s rising in me from the poking finger of collapse.

Well, enough of metaphor.  I better get to work.  But first — I think a slice of last night’s baked bread is in order.

Back cover of self-published chapbook