We just returned from a short trip to Idaho, it was an interesting drive. Idaho was nice, but it was the drive though Washington that sticks in my mind.
We started out in green, cool Western Washington and drove up and over the beautiful Cascade Mountains. In a very short time we were in another world - Eastern Washington. Dry, dry, dry and brown. The air was filled with so much smoke that we rolled up the windows and put the car on re-circulating air. Even with that, though, the smoke from many forest fires in the region clung to the back of my throat and stung my nose. How do the people living there stand it? They work in smoke, rest in smoke, eat meals in smoke and at night sleep in smoke. It can't be good.
Through the thick haze we drove past mile after mile of grain fields, either being harvested or just harvested, with bales and rolls of whatever grain it was (hay?) stacked and piled in the fields, under tarps, under shelters built for that purpose, and piled into huge cone-shaped silver structures. MILES.
Then came the animals, lots of animals. Cows, horses, sheep, llamas, more cows, chickens, cows, dairy farms. And the smell? Wow, I wonder if the people living and working the ranches and farms even notice it? Maybe only city dwellers find it difficult to breathe?
After that we drove through orchards of trees as far as we could see with trucks and ladders working on gathering in the fruit. In the smoke. After the trees came fields of onions - we could smell the onions in the air as well as see the huge trucks driving one after the other and piled high with just-harvested onions.
I had a thought while we were driving through all this. Hundreds of people are working very hard, all day and every day, in difficult conditions, so that I can go to the supermarket and buy an apple and a carton of milk. I think everyone would benefit from the experience of actually seeing the work and conditions, and effort, that goes into our food production. I know - I KNEW - that food comes from farms and ranches, I did. As a child I spent a summer on a relatives farm in Iowa, it was fun. But I didn't really "get it" until I made the trip in the smoke past ruined corn crops that didn't get the water they needed to grow, the onion fields, the apple orchards, the grain harvesting, the cows.
And the workers, working and living in the heat and the smoke of the worst wild fire season I've seen in Washington; smoke that could be seen as it rolled along the ground and wound through the trees, tasted on the back of the tongue, dimming the sun and making the hills disappear, and causing the nose to sting. I'm pretty sure it wasn't fun.