Posted August 29, 2017 by Kerry McFall
The Eclipse seems to have worked some kind of dark magic on the Pacific Northwest, dark in the sense that our skies are smudged with the smoke of many acres of forests burning. The smoke has actually mediated the heat a bit, shielding us slightly at the height of the afternoon’s scorching temps.
Smoke in the Willamette Valley is not a new thing. Native Americans used fire long ago to keep the meadows free of pers istentfir tree invaders, leaving forage and open access for game animals.
I am old enough to remember the Field Burning Years, those final hazy days of summer, breathing grass smoke and picking blackberries in a sweating frenzy to earn money for back-to-school: Pendleton wool pleated skirts and knit kneesocks. The smoke and heat lasted well into September. Makes my legs itch just thinking about those hot woolly walks home from school. I can’t imagine today’s young women putting up with those outfits for a minute!
For many years, growers would burn the stubble in their grass and hay and wheat fields, eventually resulting in freeway pileups and a legislative ban on field burning. Ironically, they thought the burning was necessary to clear the way for the next year’s crop, I vaguely remember something about mildew spores, but turns out it’s better for the soil to just turn the stubble under… Not that I would wish to go back, but for what it’s worth I have concluded that within reasonable limits, the smell of sweet grass smoke was better than the acrid forest smoke we’re putting up with now. But we can’t legislate away the wildfires.
Under these golden smoky skies, our tiny fruit trees are dropping fruit on the sidewalk left and right. The Asian pear is having a particularly rough time, with leaves looking scorched and sad. “Windfall” usually describes fruit dropping conveniently so you don’t have to figure out how to reach it to pick it. Our windfalls seem premature, but maybe this is just Mother Nature eliminating the wormiest runts. My husband salvages them all, laboriously cutting out the yucky bits, peeling off the tough bumpy skin. He collects the resulting sweet tiny bites on a saucer and serves them for breakfast. Waste not, want not!
This painting was made on grey toned paper, using watercolor, gouache, brown ink, colored pencil, ceramic marker, and white ink.