Year by year the currents of time speed up, so that, looking back, it’s like scenery clicking past as I slide downstream on a heady flow. Suddenly, it’s fall again. I am back to riding my $5 town bike up to campus and greeting another crop of younger-and-younger-seeming students who have decided that college might be a good idea. The tomatoes are hard to keep up with but the potatoes are long past.I watch the cobbles of experience flash past under the hull of my boat, try to catch what I can before they get lost in the mosaic and the season is gone.
Smoke has infiltrated our lives this season. It clings to the valleys like dirty mist. The sun and moon rise like orbs of ripe fruit, alien skies, remarkable and disturbing. Eastern Montana and the Dakotas are experiencing drought like never before in human memory, including the Dust Bowl years. They call it a “flash” drought. Four months ago they were worried about flooding, about saturated ground. Now, they would give their tractor for a half inch of rain. Meantime, of course, Hurricane Harvey dumps 50 inches in a couple of days, the water in the Gulf of Mexico simmers at 90 degrees, a metropolitan area the size of Connecticut lies under feet of fetid water.
The smoke that oppresses us this summer serves as a metaphor for the pall that hangs over our country. A country, now, where our president can’t make it through a day without a lie, where Nazis march in broad daylight, where young people who have lived and worked and contributed to our country all of their lives fear being deported, where the rights of sexual orientation are under siege. Where corruption and treason are passed off in the interest of political gain. Where cynicism and hypocrisy and blatant falsehood have taken the place of reason and integrity.
Meantime, oddly, life goes on in this lucky place. At the same time our foundations erode, we travel, we share vacations, we support our children, we put boats on rivers and climb peaks and relish the luxuries we have come to assume are normal. I think, more and more often, about the other people through history who have watched tyranny and fascism creep into their social fabric, how they couldn’t believe it could happen, how they kept on as if everything were normal, because, really, what else could or should they do. It feels that way here and now.
So yes, summer is waning. Life rides on down the currents. We look back at the gems of experience and shared time – the Owyhee River in May, the Middle Fork of the Flathead in July, the Wind River Mountains in August, and more to come before winter clamps down. We relish the week in Lander, sprinkling dad’s ashes next to mom’s under the ancient juniper tree in the lovely Red Canyon where the Little Popo Agie runs past the base of the cliff, where the ancients left their mysterious markings in the sandstone, where the energies that were the vibrant lives of my mother and father come full circle and return to the red soil, to the probing roots and eager earth. We watch our children carry the torch forward with their own robust and adventurous lives.
And over it all the smoke hangs, cloying and dark. We wait for it to lift, for the air to clear, for some restoration of sanity.