Continued Wildfires

I realize today just how exhausted I am. Since late May the temperatures have been above normal, increasing to much higher than normal for June and now into July, especially the last 2-3 weeks. Compound this with little rain, bringing drought conditions. Since May 15 we have had hardly any rain: 7mm on June 2 and 4mm on June 19. None since. Generally, June is a rainy month, with July and August (sometimes into early September) being warm and dry–but not this summer. Because in this area we usually have mild temperatures, many people here do not have air-conditioning. Fortunately, we have a basement that is fairly cool and one room conditioner, which only goes on if it’s still very hot at night (which it has been the last 2-3 weeks). Tie in the increased running and walking, and staying busy–summertime is active–including visitors this week and into the weekend, I just cannot shake that sort of sapped out feeling today. To top it all, there are over 180 wild fires in the province, and now the smoke is settling in the lower mainland. We have air quality advisories due to particulate matter (which I have blogged about before as being dangerous to runners). Our city water table is down to 79%, and we’re at drought level 2-3, depending on area. However, Vancouver Island is at the worst drought level (4), with a fishing ban.

Yesterday we went on a hike to a park and could smell the smoke all day. Later that day, my niece and I sat out on the dry lawn, wines in hand, finding a particular spot with a slight wind tunnel (while my husband and her wife went out to get some bigger chocks for their Airstream). It was hot but breezy–our skin as brown as the grass, our throats parched. We were so engrossed in conversation that we did not notice the multitude of ants that had made their way to her wine glass. When it’s really dry like this, the conditions are better for the sandy soil ant homes, so an abundance of ants has proliferated. But also the ants wait for warm weather events to do their nuptial flight, releasing their queens under the right conditions in late spring or summer. When dramatic heat events like this occur many ants release at the same time (this ensures better mating potential). The greater number of ants is good, being a food source for birds. It was no big deal to us to laugh it off, go to the back deck to sit on chairs, and continue to swish the occasional ant off our bodies.

Toward nightfall the smoke from wild fires began getting worse, mostly due to the hot winds we got that day. This morning the scene was worse. At first I thought, finally some clouds! But this is all smoke, and that little dot is the sun.

Wildfire haze and smoke over our neighborhood

A strong smell of wood smoke permeates everything. Visible ash is falling from the sky and coating cars (but mostly down in Vancouver). According to one of my coworkers, the coast was much worse, since this smoke is mostly coming from the island and one up in Sechelt. See CTV News for some more photos. On my way to work this morning, I saw people in masks and one military truck, probably getting ready to deploy to fight some of these blazes. There are none right in the Vancouver metro area or surrounding towns, but there are a multitude of fires elsewhere in the province, some up north (including in Saskatchewan), some on Vancouver Island, and others in the east in the Kootenays. I had just signed a new title for February next year, and the author lives off grid in Saskatchewan, where he said the sky was so eerie and he was waiting to be called as a volunteer firefighter.

I write these updates not to complain, for I feel that we still have it so easy compared to others in the world, but my goal here is to talk about living (and running) in this time of climate change, which means spelling it out. Documenting it. Giving my observations and thoughts. We know this is not just weather. Previous blog posts have linked to studies showing how this kind of weather is linked to climate change–a thing that’s not going away and will get worse. What we can do is to adapt to it creatively and seek to curb this ongoing human-caused catastrophe.

Friday night my niece texted me from Washington state saying they would be up the next day rather than this coming Thursday, which was great news (though earlier than expected, any chance to spend more time with family is a bonus). Friday was in the 90s, and we came home from a long day at work to a hot and languid house, but proceeded to clean and prepare for early arriving guests. Around 8:30 hat night we were done, and that was the start of my exhaustion phase, yet at the same time I have just brushed this phase off and remained more active than usual–refusing to forgo runs and walks, etc.

Saturday I walked around 5K in the late morning, doing some last-minute grocery shopping around the centre north of us. Before heading back home, I noticed the start of a brush fire in one of those parking lot islands with trees and flowers. At that point it was just smoking heavily, without the flames. I told a store clerk about it, who brought out some water. Back home I was texting with my niece who said it was 104 degrees where they had camped Friday night (they are traveling and living in an old Airstream they built up). They were very eager to cool off, but it was hot everywhere in Washington state too. I was, at that time, trying to figure out my run that day. It was 35 degrees (about 95 F), and I had not gotten up at 5:30 that morning to run. I finally did that run in the deep heat of the balmy afternoon and made it just over a mile and a half before stopping–faced flushed, sweat dripping, etc. At the same time, I feel that I am way more adapted now to run in the heat than I was at the beginning of this weather, but I think there are some safety concerns when it’s this hot. I dunno, I see more seasoned runners doing marathons in similar heat–some with the high humidity, which we do not have here too much–but many of these runners have been stating how much warmer it is than usual in their areas of the world.

To creatively beat the heat, I set up chairs on our back deck, with a table for snacks–and some solar-powered dragonfly-shaped lights for when it gets dark. We were sitting out there Saturday night with some wine and Shocktops, munching on succulent orange slices, catching up, and saw a huge raccoon run along our north fence and then along the foliage in our west yard. He was not afraid of us one bit. Outside is much more comfortable once the sun begins to fade, but here it doesn’t get dark until 10:00 or later, so we have also been naturally staying up later, which is also causing this tiredness.

The rest of our company is arriving very late Thursday night–my daughter and other niece, who live in southern California, which I really worry about. What is this state going to do when their water is gone? There is not enough talk about this. However, I am excited to see them. As always, I am trying to imagine the logistics of running and how that works in with weather, company, etc. Now that I have finished the 10K program, I don’t need the phone app to chart my run and am going to start using my husband’s old Garmin watch (I can upload the data to Strava), which can attach to a foot gadget–so I can get my pace and distance when on a treadmill, which is great for keeping up running in heat and wildfires. I’m going to use that watch tomorrow morning and run on the treadmill in the gym at work. And possibly do a Wednesday run as well, since my vacation starts Thursday and I won’t have access to the gym. Then it’s back to getting up early and hoping that the drought, fires, and heat begin to abate.

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