Cascade Foothills, Ashland, Oregon
In The Valley of the Rogue, in Southern Oregon, we made it to the last day of July before winds shifted and smoke from the massive "Stout" wildfire, 150 miles to the north, arrived. In summer, The Rogue Valley is a playground for camping, hiking, river rafting; play of all kinds; outdoor eating and napping in a hammock beside a bubbling creek. The beauty of Southern Oregon is hot, dry summer days, few if any biting bugs and lovely cool nights. There is rarely a need for air conditioning. In Ashland, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, brings in thousands of visitors each summer for spectacular outdoor theatre.
For the past several years, the new normal in Southern Oregon, has been severe drought in winter with barely enough moisture to cover our mountains and fill our reservoirs. Last summer, a pipeline was built between Ashland and nearby Medford, to supply Ashland with enough water to make it until the return of winter rains. Summers are extremely dry and the number of days with triple digits temps increases each year. By June this year, we already had a ten day stretch of triple digits. Deer, bear and cougar wander into town, in search of water and food. The fires and smoke bring with them an eery yellowish light creating melancholy emotion in many. The new normal is wildfires; bringing intermittent smoke to the valley for several days, weeks or months.
Last Saturday, it was 105 degrees and the light was deep yellow as I left my hair appointment. Two sheep on leashes were drinking from the water bowl outside the salon. That evening, saw movement in the overgrown shrubs outside my kitchen window. I saw what I thought was a massive black dog with a huge butt rooting around. Taking a closer look, I got a clear view of a magnificent black bear. I immediately called neighbors to warn them to look both ways before stepping outside. Everyone raced out of their homes to capture a look as the beautiful bear ambled away.
Last year I said, "If the valley is filled with smoke next summer, I'll move.". For many, the summer of 2013, when the Rogue Valley was filled with thick, yellow-brown smoke for close to two months, created a state of PTSD (Post Traumatic Smoke Disorder). Now, every time smoke rolls in I experience a sense of stress, dread, suffocation and confinement. In 2013, it was nearly impossible to find lodging or camping sites at the coast as everyone was fleeing the valley. I wore a mask indoors at work since the doors constantly opened and closed, creating a smoky work environment. Respirator masks at the hardware store sold out due to high demand. We Oregonians have an intense love for our state's awesome beauty. The norm for most is to be outside and active, year round. The thought of moving away from friendships that span decades and a beautiful small community, overflowing with the arts, trailheads out the back door, spiritual pursuits and lifestyles of all bents is painful to consider.
Since most of us keep toughing it out each summer of the, "New Normal", we must find ways to adapt and stay healthy on all levels- Physical, Nutritional, Emotional, Environmentally and Spiritually.
On the Physical level, when unable to garden, hike or allow children outside to play, it's time to come in to new relationship with the indoors in summer time. And, it's time to examine thoughts, beliefs, shoulds, and begin to open to the reality of what is. I'm imagining it's December and pouring rain (we do have to imagine that with our drought). I use my indoor space, just as in winter and do 45 minutes of combined aerobics and Yoga, followed by Qigong. One can Google hundreds of workouts to do on your own and be guided through them on your home computer. It could be easy to sit around feeling worse by the day when the smoke is thick and you can't get out for your run or hike. Focusing on what you can do and doing it, can help energize one in the midst of out of control environmental elements. Another great activity is cleaning and organizing space that you've been avoiding. Put the kids to work on this too. It gets your body moving and gives a sense of local control when we can't control the elements. You might find a time when it's a little cooler and don your N95 respirator mask and water the garden; harvest what is ready and pull a few weeds.
It's essential now to learn to use a Neti pot and daily rinse your nasal passages. You're breathing in massive amounts of smoke gunk. Sensitive people may notice skin rashes which are a sign that the toxins coming in are being detoxed through the skin. The smoke can also cause a sense of fatigue and may require more rest for some.
Nutritionally, drink plenty of pure water, eat whole foods and load-up on colorful organic fruits and veggies- high in nutrients and anti-oxidants; so necessary during times of physical and emotional stress. Up fiber to help pull toxins from your system. Breathing in toxic smoke, makes it essential to take your supplements. Include a daily multiple vitamin, Vitamin D-3 and Omega-3 oils to support your system and counter inflammation that smoke can trigger. Support your immune system with a good probiotic or raw fermented food like kraut, kimchee or kombucha. An anti-oxidant supplement is especially important in this time to counter inflammation and give you cellular energy support. I find N.A.C. (N- Acetyl-Cysteine) is great, not only to support against inflammation, but it works as a mucolytic , helping to keep lungs clear while thinning mucus. Research has also shown N.A.C. to boost the immune system.
Emotionally, it's helpful to not become isolated at home. Putting attention on staying active, eating well, and keeping up with spiritual pursuits is essential for emotional wellbeing. Two days into the current bout of smoke and heat, I braved the Growers Market with my N-95 mask and got the fixings for a batch of lacto-fermented garlic-dill pickles. I invited a friend and her son, who needed respite from a smoky, un-air-conditioned house to joined me for the afternoon. Meanwhile, we invited another friend who wanted to learn to make raw fermented kraut with his fresh-picked cabbage. In the midst of a stifling hot, smoky day, we had a fermenting party. We had the joy of playing with fresh-picked food-bringing nature inside to us, and the human heart connection. Other great mood lifters when stuck indoors are music, game parties, potlucks, or a great book. It could be a good time to invest in some of Deepak Chopra's 21-day Meditation Series or renew that Netflix subscription- watch some great comedies or fall in love with a new television series.
Environmentally, it's an important time to take care of yourself. Buy N-95 respirator masks at any hardware or paint store and wear them outside, even it's for a brief period. Masks do require an increased effort to breathe which can increase the heart rate and might cause problems for people with pre-existing heart or lung conditions. So be aware of this. An air filter in your home is very important as smoke will get inside. Here is a helpful link about air filter systems: www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/residair.html If you don't have any form of air-conditioning, there are several models of portable units available. Smoke is a combination of very fine particles and gases that can contain, aldehydes, acid gases, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, toluene, styrene, metals and dioxins. Long term exposure to breathing in smoke particles is associated with increased risk for cancer, lung disease, and cardiovascular disease- so use your mask if you must go out.
Smoke particles affect eyes, sinuses, ears and lungs. Several days ago, when I awoke in the middle of the night and smelled smoke, I immediately closed the windows, but by then, I had already breathed in smoke for several hours. By morning, I was coughing, my throat was scratchy, sinuses were dripping and my eyes were stinging and crusty. Smoke particles can cause bronchitis and severely aggravate heart and lung conditions. The air quality index rating in The Ashland Medford area has been close to 200 or more since last Friday. An AQI rating over 200 means the air is very unhealthy.
Another thing I did on an environmental level over the weekend, was to organize and put together an earthquake survival kit. My intuition has been telling me to be at least minimally prepared for the unknown date and arrival of The Cascadia-Subduction Zone Quake. And, this project seriously took my mind off pitying myself due to the heat and the smoke. There is nothing like a little perspective when it comes to natural disasters.
During stressful times like these, a Spiritual practice and community is especially important. We have amazing choices in this valley-a religious service, a meditation group, Yoga, ecstatic dance, NIA, or a Qigong class. You might use the enforced time at home to meditate, chant, sing, read poetry, paint, draw or journal. I find a daily practice of gratitude to be powerful in creating balance and a sense of calm. Rather than complaining about the horrors of the smoke and heat, it's my opportunity to vocalize or write down all the gifts in my life. My gratitude practice is time to say, "thank you" and ask for "help" wherever it is needed- for family members, friends, myself, my community, those in need of healing or war-torn regions. And, so urgently right now, I pray for help and balance for Mother Earth and her climate.
The above ideas can help on an immediate personal level, but in the end, there is the big picture. Yes, I can flee The Rogue Valley and find a new place to call home, but it's not that simple. Our planet is crying out for help. There is no place anyone can run to escape the problems manifesting from global warming and climate change. The science is here and it affects us all- human beings, animals, insects and the mineral and plant kingdoms. "Everything is Everything" when it comes to being healthy on a Physical, Nutritional, Emotional, Environmental and Spiritual level- for humans and Mother Earth. All aspects of life work in synergy. The past several seasons of draught and fire have helped me to understand that the smoke in The Valley of Rogue is everyone's fire.