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  • Writer's pictureCory Howell Hamada

Day 7: Another Matter Entirely

Langlois → Gold Beach

42.9 miles

↑ 1394 feet ↓ 1417 feet

We woke to the smell of smoke.

I pulled my t-shirt to my nose and sniffed. Was it the smell of our lodging lingering in our clothes? We’d stayed in a yurt, and the residual from old campfires had filled our senses when we walked in.

But when we stepped outside, inhaled, saw the sky thick above the eastern treeline, we knew it was something else.

It reminded me of elementary school days with haze on the horizon, that morning in high school I found my green Civic covered in ash.

As we began our ride, we turned and watched the sun cast a smoggy orange across its ascent.

We stopped at a wood-paneled diner in Port Orford for breakfast. The waitress was friendly, used to chatting with out-of-towners like us. She brought me an extra cup of ice with my tea; she’d just brewed it, and wanted to make sure I got it cold.

“My friend in eastern Oregon woke up to fires,” she said.

It was too early for lunch. We wanted a chicken sandwich and salad, but settled on eggs, sourdough toast, hashbrowns, and a single pancake.

After, we stopped at the local market for water. The woman at the counter called it for what it was.

“Global warming,” she said. She jabbed her elbow sideways, a knowing gesture. “What do you make of that, deniers?”

Lilly smiled back at her. “You and I are on the same page,” she said.

Fire is an ever-present danger in California. And every September and October we hear about the post-summer dry, the Red Flag Warnings, the Santa Ana winds, the communities wiped off the map, the friends and families that have to relocate, the struggle of rebuilding and restarting.

I heard about families fleeing to our local Target for shelter when I was in elementary school. The week school was cancelled because of fire danger, I was in high school. The time I walked to class through falling ash, I was in college.

Every year there is danger, there are small fires. But large-scale catastrophe only seemed to strike every five or ten years.

Now, it’s yearly.

And it’s not just a California issue.

I’ve heard about the debates surrounding forest management: Do we extensively manage forests to suppress fires, or allow nature to take its course and “self-manage” its own fuel loads?

But what’s happening now is another matter entirely.

“The debate is over around climate change,” California Governor Gavin Newson said. “Just come to the state of California. Observe it with your own eyes. It’s not an intellectual debate. It’s not even debatable any longer.”

The evening was a swirly pink in Gold Beach. Lilly and I walked along the water, the beach sand invading our shoes, gritty against my socks. We should have just walked barefoot.

We tried to take photos of the grass growing along the edge of the dunes, but we just couldn’t capture the way it waved in the breeze. We gave up and walked back to town. We could still smell smoke in the same wind that danced across the sand and the water.

“We’re on the precipice of history,” Lilly said. “Climate change is happening now.”

I nodded back, but didn’t really know what to say.

While the sky hadn’t cleared, it hadn’t gotten any worse either. But we couldn’t shake the feeling that something was coming.


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