Chokin'

Chokin'
Fainting by Pietro Longhi, 1744
" … this, too, was intended to be a part of the deal …"

This terrarium's oxygen seems just about used up. We closed up the place as the smoke concentrated, using fans to keep the suddenly suffocating inside air moving, but it moved increasingly listlessly anyway, suddenly neither fresh nor refreshing. We continued breathing, but substituting low octane for high test air, each breath an increasingly sorry pretender to what we'd grown accustomed to experiencing. Usually, the breeze here brings continual relief down from The High Country, some of the freshest air in the world. During fire season, it billows. Nearer the fire lines, ash falls like heavy snow. Here, it's only smoke bringing persistently itchy eyes and a choking sensation deep in the throat. And there's no respite. No cool glade to escape into. No secret room in the basement unaffected by this intrusion. I choose to sit on the deck as the day grows long, nose running and eyes tearing up. I get scowled at for leaving the slider open.

We're in no real danger here.
The closest fire rages over a hundred miles away. I cannot imagine the experience for those more closely downwind. We can climb into our thin terrarium and wait it out. They cannot escape choking clouds of smoke. I can't bear to watch the news reports showing video of entire mountainsides erupting in uncontrollable wind-blown flame. Familiar names on evacuation lists, some places we'd hoped one day to visit. Locals insist that what they'd known as normal will never again be the same. We imagine regeneration but not the generations required. We seek salvation, but rather late. I suspect that this choking sensation might be what the poets referred to as fate. No imaginable escape.

Produce shipments have already been disrupted, previously disrupted supply chains further disrupted by long detours on roads never intended to carry such a volume of truck traffic. The state pleads for people to stay away from The High Country, sequestration piled upon sequestration. Cautions cascade, building upon themselves as the world turns differently than expected again. Is everything a ticking time bomb? Is nothing even semi-permanent? Must every tradition be disrupted over and over and over again? Almost everything suddenly seems like change except for the exchange of air within our sealed terrarium. I seem to be slowly suffocating, choking, swallowing endless quarts of water as if I might somehow secure a fresh breath by choking it down.

One day, not today and certainly not tomorrow, but one day, I pray that something might seem to have returned to anything halfway recognizable as normal. This living through extraordinary times eventually seems hardly worth the price of admission, more submission than blessing. I choke down each day like I choke down each stale breath, neither precisely what this customer ordered. I could without further justification spend the duration complaining. Oh, I could cloak it as clever reporting, but everyone would see right through my ruse. I, perhaps like you, would request an excused absence from these sticky parts, a Get Out Of Jail Free Card issued by a proper authority, if only I could. Not being brave myself, I can't imagine what else I'm supposed to learn from this long series of downturns. Take a livelihood, then a freedom, then the very air I need to breathe. Take away most of what I recognized as me, then leave me to figure out something. I'm supposed to find a pony in here?

The sunrise produces a bruise along the eastern horizon, only diffused light seeps through. Last night's sunset fizzled, promised color smothered in billowing grey. Today promises to be long and hot. I've got to get the sprinklers running before the heat of the day. I imagined us driving away from here, perhaps down toward the Texas Panhandle where only a prairie fire might foul the air, an attempted escape into very near the absolute middle of NowHere. I understand that bars and restaurants remain wide open down there and we'd be welcomed with old-fashioned open arms, hugs still permitted there, too. I feel sorely tempted to hop out of the frying pan I find myself sizzling in right into a fire not thoroughly considered. Our life's here, however queer it might feel. Our Terrarium might well seem over-constraining sometimes, especially when choking down lungsful of diet cola air. Anywhere else might seem preferable if not nearly as familiar. My dad used to insist, when I persisted in offering him respite, that this, too, was intended to be a part of the deal, presenting itself for embrace rather than rejection, and that one might reasonably expect to experience some Chokin' along the way. Namaste.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved








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