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Overflight

Started: 2018-08-23 20:26:30

Submitted: 2018-08-23 23:17:28

Visibility: World-readable

In which an apocalyptic wildfire haze overcomes Seattle and the rest of the Pacific Northwest, and the intrepid narrator flies over San Francisco

Several days before we left for Worldcon, smoke settled over Seattle from wildfires burning on Victoria Island, obscuring the sky in a pale haze and casting a yellow tint on everything on the ground. I couldn't smell much smoke from ground level, but the air quality reports continued to get worse.

Wildfire haze under the Aurora Bridge
Wildfire haze under the Aurora Bridge

The day we left for Worldcon, bundled up in my house with the doors and windows closed against the smoke while packing for the trip, I heard the persistent throbbing engine of heavy equipment along with some muffled clanging and looked out the window to see the boom of a backhoe down the street. I grabbed Calvin and we took a field trip to see what was happening and found that a house down the street had been demolished and the backhoe was loading the rubble, mostly wooden beams broken down like match sticks, into a waiting dumpster, and carefully sorting out the broken slabs of concrete from the back patio (and possibly the foundation).

Backhoe clearing a demolished house under wildfire haze
Backhoe clearing a demolished house under wildfire haze

We are currently staying in the Seattle neighborhood of Ballard (in the sub-neighborhood of Sunset Hill), where hundred-year-old houses coexist peacefully with striking modernist homes. I always assumed the lots had been cleared of their original houses, but I'd never actually seen it happen in person.

We watched the scene, appropriately apocalyptic under the ominous yellow sky, for a few minutes, then returned to the house.

That afternoon, Kiesa, Calvin, and I flew from Seattle to San Jose; and as our plane climbed above 11,000 feet I could see where the haze ended and the clear air began. When I looked straight down I could see the ground below, but at any angle the haze obscured the ground under a white smear.

Wildfire haze over Western Washington
Wildfire haze over Western Washington

I picked a seat on the left side of the plane in hopes of watching the cavalcade of Cascade volcanoes rolling by my window, but the haze up to 11,000 feet completely obscured all but the highest of the volcanoes. I caught a glimpse of Rainier, looking like it was standing neck-deep in the haze, trying to stand tall and breathe carefully in the clean air around its head.

The haze obscured all of Washington and Oregon; only when we reached California did the haze lift, and when it did I saw the burning front of the Carr Fire perched above Lake Shasta.

Carr Fire burning above Lake Shasta
Carr Fire burning above Lake Shasta

Our approach into San Jose took us almost directly above the Golden Gate Bridge; I caught only a brief glimpse of the world's most beautiful bridge out the window of the plane as we banked over the city. I pressed my face to the window and watched the city that used to be my home slide past the window, visible from the Presidio to Hunter's Point, laid out on its mesh of interlocking grid systems, with the bay dividing the city from Alameda and Oakland and Berkeley and beyond.

San Francisco from the air
San Francisco from the air

The small puffy clouds intensified in the south of the city, clustering above Ingleside, obscuring my view of the neighborhood where I used to live (and where the house I still own is now up for sale. Through the gaps in the clouds I could see Balboa Park, and the sports fields at City College San Francisco, and -- maybe -- my house, perched on the side of a nameless hill, overlooking Excelsior and Mission Terrace (where the local grid makes more concessions to the local topography) and the bay.

Ingleside from the air
Ingleside from the air

The city still feels like my home, and it was almost within reach outside the window of the plane. As much as I wanted, though, I couldn't stay.

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