Wildfires, Covid, Elections, and Peaceful Diversions


Oregon Wildfires September 2020 – usatoday.com

Surely, we can all agree that 2020 has been a filthy little year! With over three months to go, it’s painful contemplating what more havoc might come. After an extended trip abroad, I returned to the US in December 2019, with no idea what was soon to follow in 2020.

Long flights are difficult, and I cringe now when recalling a grueling 20+ hour flight from Dubai to Seattle. It was before safety precautions like social distancing and PPE. I sat helplessly watching fidgety, sneezing passengers from all corners of the world touch everything in their path as they wandered throughout the packed aircraft to stretch their legs.

Wuhan Novel Coronavirus – New Scientist
Covid-19 aka Coronavirus

The March Covid-19 “lockdown” wasn’t fun, but since I’d been on the move for a long time, I was content with quiet days in a familiar place. I feel deep compassion for people who contracted the coronavirus and those who’ve suffered untold economic, mental, and physical pain. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that two million or more deaths worldwide are likely, even with vaccine development.

Tragedies continue to play out worldwide, while new side effects surface, second waves begin in the UK and Europe, and controversy, anger, and rage continue over testing, more lockdowns and restrictions, social distancing, vaccine distribution, personal protective equipment, and reopening businesses and schools. It’s a disturbing situation, and the complicated ramifications of the global pandemic are just beginning to surface. There’s hope for vaccine development, improved therapeutic treatments, and new medications, but no end to the coronavirus is in sight.

I wanted to volunteer and help, but that wasn’t wise. Like everyone, I followed the rules, social distanced, and stayed at home watching real and fictional dramas play out online and via cable television.

Oregon Wildfires

To further complicate an already complex environment, in early September hellish wildfires struck Oregon – a tragedy for humans, nature, and animals. Although I’ve experienced wildfires in California, Oregon, and Washington – nothing was like this!

Decades Old Railroad Bridge Yakima River – Brian Stott

The fires began when a powerful late-summer storm brought historic high winds and lightning, wreaking havoc along the West Coast. These fires have changed the State of Oregon forever, and several small towns burned to the ground. Tragic stories told by survivors and brave firefighters are heart wrenching. Some of the most beautiful mountainous areas in the Oregon Cascade wilderness were lost. It will take years for them to recover.

Red suns, dark skies thick with heavy smoke, and toxic ash-filled air are part of the otherworldly experiences we’ve lived through during the past few weeks. Friends in San Francisco relate goosebumps-rendering stories of their weird and surreal Blade Runner like environment.

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“There is no level of training, there’s no class you can take that’s going to prepare you for this kind of a catastrophe – especially a personal level,” said Upper McKenzie District Fire Chief Christiana Plews – Oregon on Fire: Special Report KVAL.com

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Recently, we’ve had rainstorms calming the fire-ravaged landscape and perking up plants like wilted rhododendrons. So far, no sunshine and blue skies, but it’s pure delight hearing the sound of raindrops, opening windows, and standing outside taking a deep breath! Sadly, with heavy rain, landslides and flash floods are expected in some areas already devastated by fire.

Firefighters Western Wildfires – The New York Times

Cleanup is next, but only in accordance with approved guidelines. Everything in sight is coated with ash!

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“Nasa has described a “perfect storm of meteorological factors” contributing to the period of “extreme burning”. Record-breaking temperatures, unusually dry air, and fierce winds – on top of drought in some areas – have exacerbated the fires.”

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Thirsty Rhododendrons
2020 US Presidential Election

No words can describe the intense, prolonged abuse Americans are suffering in regards to the 2020 presidential election. It’s one of the nastiest, most bitter, mean-spirited campaigns in history. Election interference and other conspiracy theories run rampant creating civil unrest, paranoia, extreme partisanship, violence, crime, protests, riots, and any hope for national unity or peace of mind. It’s awful!

I was out of the country during the two previous presidential elections, and thought I’d done what was necessary to vote absentee – discovered I had not. Voting from a foreign country is supposed to be easy now, but it wasn’t. While traveling, you may not have a mailing address or easy access to a printer, scanner, or fax, I didn’t.

Oregon became a vote by mail state long before I moved there in 2007. Somehow, my attempts to get setup for voting online while traveling abroad failed, throwing things off balance. Later when back in the US, I waited for a local election ballot. Days before the voting deadline, I realized a ballot wasn’t coming, either via hard mail or email.

Oregon Cascades Image via Holiday Farm Fire Information

While trying to sort it out, I was bounced back and forth between federal, state, and local election officials, none of whom were particularly helpful figuring out what ran amok. I almost gave up, but voting is vitally important, so I went in person to a local county election office and cast my vote.

Traveling in a foreign country during a US presidential election is nerve-racking. Especially watching negative media exchanges by news media commentators and politicians constantly broadcast on computer and television screens. With all the nasty, vicious vitriol, I felt uneasy and vulnerable being a solo American traveler, almost like a citizen of a third-world or developing country.

Sunrise from the Deck

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“Even the most experienced climate and fire scientists have been at a loss for words describing the scope and intensity of the fires burning in West Coast states in September 2020.” NASA Earth Observatory

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These days, it seems presidential campaigns begin the day after an election ends and continue non-stop for four years until the next one occurs! The public is endlessly pummeled with nasty media coverage, partisan ads, and childish bickering. It’s too much, and most people are tired of it. The country must find a better way!

Map Portland-Eugene Area Fires – Wildfires Today
Peaceful Diversions

During stressful times when outside entertainment sources are limited, people need peaceful diversions. I’ve found some and rediscovered others.

Gardening

Although I have “basic” gardening done during my travels, there was a ton of “catch-up” work. Being surrounded by mini skyscraper-sized fir and oak trees on a little less than an acre is idyllic, but it also means never-ending maintenance. The landscaping is on a hillside, so that adds a level of “tricky” and has resulted in tumbling down the hill a few times (as the squirrels and chipmunks laughed) – luckily without injury. Pruning, weeding, planting, and cleanup has taken time and still isn’t complete, but visible results make the hard work worthwhile.

My natural back-landscaping leads into the woods, where deer, squirrels, chipmunks, and wild turkeys are abundant. No matter how many times I’ve spoken to them :o) – they don’t pay attention and continue working against me by foraging, scratching, digging, and eating everything. A fence would ruin the beauty of the natural landscape, so I’ve spent a small fortune on “deterrents”. I’m now using Tabasco sauce which is mildly effective, but it seems the animals enjoy some spice with their food! Naughty, stubborn squirrels are busy little creatures and the worst for gardens.

Orange Fire Sky Over Bay Bridge San Francisco Bay – Sky News
Yoga and Hiking

I’m working on a personal yoga routine and started using wrist and ankle weights, which are making a noticeable difference. Gravity is cruel, and trying to counteract it is an endless process. Finally, I’m getting into a workout routine that fits my needs, and I even look forward to it.

With the fires, hiking is curtailed temporarily. Over the summer, I took a few extended hiking trips which will be the subject of future blog posts.

Fire Ravaged Oregon Town – Star Tribune
Watercolor Painting

I began watercolor painting again – simple still life. Took lessons years ago, but never made much progress. I don’t have a studio, so some scenes are setup in my small painting area, others are painted from a collection of art books, and a few were created using photos and media shots found online. Painting is a great way to relax and focus! I’ve shared my paintings with friends and have no illusions of talent, but feel comfortable with my work. A few recent paintings are attached.

Animal Shelter Volunteer

I hope to start volunteering for a local humane society, primarily fostering animals in need of a temporary home until they can go up for adoption. This includes sick or injured animals, kittens before they’re spayed or neutered, and sometimes animals who need help with socializing. With traveling, it’s difficult to have pets, so fostering is perfect for me. It’s been years since I fostered, so I need to take a class and hope that happens soon.

Cooking

It’s fantastic to be in my own kitchen again, with a familiar stove and cooking utensils. Cooking in an alien kitchen (7 of those during the last trip) can be frustrating. You often just give it up or do something simple, like pasta with parmesan, parsley, and olive oil. I’m enjoying home cooking, and whatever is in season is on the menu. Coronavirus restrictions are helping create new chefs.

Travel Again?

Of course, I’m eager for another travel adventure! The question is when? As a friend says, staying healthy and active until life normalizes (new normal?) is all you can do…

Best to all!

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