Two essential elements: Fire and Air

Breath is central to life.

Breathing is where our energy to live comes from and when we stop doing it … our time is over. 

Do you ever think about what we are breathing? Did you know that we are being exposed daily to dangerous levels of air pollution with significant impacts on our health and wellbeing? Yes, here in South Africa, particularly on the Highveld, air quality is often hazardous. I know because I now check an air quality App (called Plume) as often as I do the weather.

This journey of knowledge started for me in July when I visited family along the spectacular Northwest Pacific, USA. Our planned drive from Los Angeles to Seattle through national parks and conservation areas soon became an apocalyptic nightmare.

After San Francisco the skies grew grey; it was not cloud, but smoke. The atmosphere became increasingly oppressive, our eyes were stinging, and we were almost choking. By this time, I was no longer trying to see the barely visible landscape but trawling the internet for local fire updates and downloading an air quality App to find where the air might clear.

We drove through a summer inferno. Temperatures soared and the air was heavy from hundreds of fires burning from California to Canada. It was a horrifying experience.

Exhausted from the stress of the trip through so much smoke, we spent a night in a cheap motel in Oregon – no camping out, and grateful for the air conditioner. I have a newfound appreciation for quality air conditioners where the filters are regularly changed. Despite their energy usage (which I learned is greatly reduced), they can filter air pollutants.

We abandoned plans to visit Yosemite, closed due to the fires anyway, and joined thousands of holiday travelers on the busy coastal highway where most campsites were full, but where we could breathe easier.

The week at my uncle’s beautiful home on Hood Canal near Seattle was overshadowed by severe smoke from the 500 fires burning in Canada.  Citizens, especially the elderly, young and ill, were warned to stay indoors. Usually visible daily, I could not see the Olympia Mountains across the water, though the smoky sunsets were vivid.

Sadly, this is just the beginning of more searing summers to come as climate change ravages the planet and the air we breathe becomes more and more polluted. Oh, and on my return to Joburg in September, hoping to breathe freely again, the App indicated an Airpocalypse, the worst it could be, with most days since registering extremely high pollution.

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