My observations over the past 6 years have led me to the conclusion that Oregon and much of the West now have five distinct seasons- Winter, Spring, Summer, Fire and Fall. Last year we somehow missed "Fire" with just one brief day of smoke, so minimal, many missed it. A couple weeks ago, "Memories" from 2012, 2013 and 2014 popped up on my Facebook Feed. September 6, 2012, "Off the grid and and out of this smokey valley. Yaay!", July 29, 2013, " Currently in Ashland, 79 degrees and smoke...", July 31, 2013, "I just bought the last box of N95 respirator masks at Miller Paint. Don't go outside without protection", Three weeks later on August 22, 2013, "Big bursts of thunder and rain never felt so good! Thank you, Holy One." And, September 24, 2014 from Instagram," Oh the rain is so beloved. #rain #drought #quenchthefires #relief #cleanair#ashlandoregon"
I think you get the picture. Due to there being no fires, last summer, I was caught off guard this year, when Oregon got slammed so hard with the fires which began in Southern Oregon on July 31 and are still burning. It seems to be all too easy for us humans to put our blinders on, over and over, without really getting the big picture.
From the amazing crystal clear blue sky and 85 degree days of June and July, doing daily hikes and Qigong next to my creek, we went directly to fire, smoke and triple-digit temperatures which all became exponentially worse as we moved into late August and early September. The following images of "Fire" season are blazed into my mind. The sky is not blue or overcast with grey clouds- there is no sky to be seen; there are no mountain views to be had; an orangey-yellow light filters through the tree branches, casting an orange glow onto everything, filtering into my home. The rising and setting sun and moon, fluctuate between orange to deep red, depending on the AQI. I check 2-3 different websites regularly to determine if it's safe to be outside or open windows. If the air suddenly clears, getting into the "Good" range, desperate for clean, cool air, I race to open my windows and doors. All too often I have bitten this sweet bait late at night and gone to sleep with a clean glorious breeze blowing through my windows only to awaken a few hours later to the smell of smoke filling my home. I immediately race through the dark house, shutting windows and turn on a fan to cool my bedroom rather than turn on the air conditioning and bring more smoke particulates into the house. Each day, as the smoke increased, more and more people were donning N-95 masks, on the streets and in their cars. When the air was at its worst I developed a cough, sore throat, headache, dripping sinuses and fever. For weeks, sleep at night was sticky-hot and stifling due to the closed windows, even though the night time temps had dropped to 52 degrees following triple digits during the day. For us north westerners who live and breathe to immerse ourselves in nature, being trapped inside is been torturous. On bad smoke days, work-outs happen inside, that is if I am not too fatigued and toxic to move body. This is "Fire".
We are now less than a week from The Autumn Equinox and fires are still burning across Oregon and many places in the west. Temperatures have suddenly dropped into the 70's and low 80's by day and into the chilly 40's at night. It's almost time to turn the heat on as Fire season morphs into Autumn. This year, we had approximately 5 weeks of summer and so far, 7 weeks of Fire.
Fire is not new in our forests. More than a century ago, Breitenbush Hot Springs burned down in a massive fire and just last week the community was ordered to evacuate. On the first trip my parents made to Oregon, in September, 1981, they drove into Ashland through thick, dark smoke, by way of Highway 66, with no visibility or view of our spectacular valley. That year, the Rogue River Fire raged out of control. I remember my father being debilitated with a severe migraine from the smoke during his visit. What is new, is that these massive fires no longer come several years apart, but fire season in Southern Oregon, seems to be an annual thing- the new season.
Ten Helpful Tips for Fire Season Self-Care
This is not my typical blog post based on detailed health advice. This fire season slammed me so hard that my main work was my own self-care and daily function, with little ability to be the teacher and helper. Here is some of the best self-care advice that came out of this fire season for me.
1) Invest in an excellent home air purifier which filters out particulates down to.1 micron and filters wildfire smoke. If you choose to live in this area it will be one of the best investments you will ever make for your health and quality of life. My Advanced HEPA + Air Purifier has allowed me to regain functional lungs, energy and clean out all the masses of smoke particulates and VOC's which my house was poisoned with, pre-purifier. Research to find what will be best for you.
2) Wear an N-95 mask when you are outside and the AQI is at a level which is unhealthy. A mask will give your face deep red indentations that last for hours and seriously mess up your hair and make you look totally dorky. Dorky is far better than developing emphysema and lung disease years from now as a result of living in wildfire country year after year. Some need a mask when the AQI hits 100 and others may not feel it until the AQI gets worse. At this point, I need a mask even in the moderate range. If you have lung or heart disease, are elderly or highly sensitive, be very attentive to protecting your respiratory system. Studies do demonstrate that people who live their lives in wildfire areas develop lung disease later in life. Two weeks ago I drove through 150 miles of thick smoke (AQI over 400) wearing my mask in the car for over two hours as I escaped to clean coastal air.
3) Neti (rinse) your sinuses daily to remove the gross toxins you breathe in daily. I use a Baraka Neti Pot with Neil-Med Sinus Rinse packets, but you may prefer their BPA-Free squeeze bottle.
4) Up your daily dose of Vitamin D-3 since you are not getting much if any sunlight during the fires. The D-3 helps reduce systemic inflammation.
5) Detoxify by staying well hydrated with plenty of water; using at least 1000 Mg. daily of N-Acetyl Cysteine (N.A.C.) which not only helps detox the liver but works as an expectorant to thin mucous in the lungs and sinuses.
6) Purchase a little bottle of what I find to be liquid gold for sinus relief, Baraka Sinus Rejuvenation Oil- a topical essential oil blend which not only opens, protects and clears sinuses but the "Inula" oil in the formula helps dilate bronchial passages.
7) Nourish yourself with nutrient-dense organic whole foods and stay hydrated by drinking enough water to help flush out toxins.
8) Stay active with a good indoor movement practice- Aerobics, Qigong, Yoga or working with exercise equipment.
9) Adopt a Gratitude Practice to help your mind stay strong and positive while feeling the claustrophobia, suffocation and low mood that typically comes with such stressful environmental conditions.
10) This is a good time to hang with friends, family and nourish your relationships for emotional support. Heart-felt connection is essential to our emotional health.
Many Blessings and Prayers for Clear Air, Blue Skies and Rain.
Web Resources for Air Quality levels:
Oregon DEQ Air Quality Levels
Most of my readers know me as a passionate Nature and Forest Therapy Guide, Health Educator and Reiki Energy Healer. What many do not know is that I was a professional pastry chef and baker for over a decade in my early adulthood. I originally trained in a baking cooperative in Eugene, Oregon, apprenticing in the art of classical Viennese and French pastry baking. I learned from a group of rather eccentric Oregon hippies who were serious artists when it came to fine baking. We were The Fine Baking Company. In my time as a a baker, I helped design and set up several bakeries and pastry kitchens.
When I left baking to stay home and raise my young children, I found opportunities to make delectable creations for birthdays, anniversaries and a few weddings. As the years passed and I struggled with chronic asthma and allergies, I moved away from refined sugars, ditched all dairy and in the past several years became gluten-free.
Being gluten-free was initially difficult. I am allergic to corn and sorghum which is in many gluten free flour mixes. So, I never use pre-mixed gluten-free flours or eat gluten-free breads. Being gluten-free and dairy-free has been a great inspiration for me to come up with yummy and healthier alternatives to fine desserts. The below recipe for the quinoa torte is wonderful and no one would ever suspect they are not eating a cake made with flour or a rich chocolate ganache that is not made with heavy cream or butter.
I must admit something. My mother was one of the best pie bakers on the planet. I have been picking blackberries and wild black raspberries with my father since I was a young girl, growing up in Iowa. I learned the art of flaky pie crust from my mother; the real-deal flaky crust with no sugar sprinkled on top-ever. I love, love love the sensory experience of eating the perfect pie crust with the perfect fruit filling. I have experimented with gluten-free pie crusts. I tried one with sorghum and it was flaky, but being in the corn family, I couldn't handle it. I will admit that about once a year, I risk it and eat a small piece of pie made with gluten. I make it with white spelt flour and either monkfruit sweetener or coconut sugar. I invite my friends to share and I eat a slice. It may be blackberry in the summer or apple pie at Thanksgiving. I take Enzymetica Gluten Ease digestive enzymes with my pie to help me digest the gluten. I find it also helps to make sure I eat it with great love and gratitude. I say, "I take you in, as a blessing and in gratitude and allow you to come into my body and do the good works you are going to do." There is nothing more powerful then adding a little Mind-Body Medicine into everything you eat. Enjoy the two recipes below.
Chocolate Quinoa Torte (with Blackberries)
(Makes a 2-layer torte (you can also make 2 single layer cakes)
2 cups soft, cooked quinoa (approximately 3/4 cup dry quinoa will yield 2 cups cooked quinoa.)
1/3 cup unsweetened almond milk (or preferred milk)
4 whole eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1 & 2/3 cup organic coconut sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Chocolate Coconut Cream Ganache
2 (13.5 ounce) can of full fat coconut milk, refrigerated overnight
2 cups dark chocolate chips (as dark a % as you like)
Blackberries for Decoration
1/2- 1 cup Fresh Blackberries
Preheat the oven to 350°F and line two round cake pans (or a 9x13” pan) with parchment paper or oil and flour pans with gluten-free flour.
In a blender or food processor, combine the eggs, preferred milk and vanilla extract, and blend for ten seconds.
Add 2 cups cooked and cooled quinoa along with the melted and cooled coconut oil and olive oil- blend until completely smooth, about thirty seconds to one minute.
Sift together the dry ingredients in a large bowl (cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and sea salt).
Refrigerate the coconut milk for several hours or overnight (in the coldest part of your refrigerator) so that the cream separates.
When ready, melt the chocolate in a sauce pan over low heat or in a stainless steel bowl over a double boiler. Take coconut milk from the fridge without shaking the can. Open and scoop out the solid parts with a spoon, placing them into the pot with the melted chocolate. Try to get as much of the thicker portions of solid coconut cream as possible. (Do not use the liquid) Melt the coconut cream and chocolate together until smooth and thick. Use a wire whisk to beat and thicken the ganache to a spreadable consistency. The Ganache thickens very quickly, but if it is too warm, you may briefly pace in fridge to cool and then get whipping it again until smooth and thick.
Transfer the cake layers to a surface for icing. They are fragile, so handle with care. Even if cake layers crack or break, no worries, just piece them together like a puzzle and all with congeal once iced. Ice top of first layer, then place on second layer and work your way icing down from top layer to sides of torte.
Frost the torte using a good, flat icing knife. Place blackberries on torte wherever your creativity takes you. Place torte in cool place until ready to serve or room temp is fine for several hours if it is not too hot.
Summer Blackberry Pie with Olive Oil Crust