This morning the smoke filled our neighborhood. I told our son, age 1 3/4, we could not go for a bike ride. I needed a distraction to avoid a disappointment meltdown. We FaceTimed Mom, his Nana, in New York instead. Bike rides are fun, but not today. Too much smoke. I checked the news to learn, thankfully, the nearby Loyalton Fire is 60% contained and, unfortunately, most prison workers who fight forest fires are payed as little at $3 an hour. It is hard to find a win.
We are a few days into this fire season brought on by extreme heat and uncharacteristic summer lightning. I am writing to you from the Mountain Gazette office, across the street from Waterman's Landing in North Lake Tahoe. Call me a relic, but I like our office. On a clear day I can see Heavenly Mountain Resort and the Gun Barrel, home of Glen's Plake's legendary mogul marathon Gun Barrel 25. I skied the event once on 203 straight skis, because I am occasionally very stupid in the pursuit of fun. I cannot see the run today. Hell, I cannot see across the street. Perhaps the smoke will lift in the afternoon if we are lucky.
I take a phone call from a cousin down near the Russian River. He says a fire is headed straight toward their home. They are out and awaiting news and drinking IPAs on a beach. He and his wife celebrated their birthdays this week as they evacuated their home. Their spirits are good. They continue to amaze me.
We are lucky to be in North Lake Tahoe. This time anyways. I keep those in the line of fire on my mind, including a contributor penning an essay on the perils of fighting fire on the psyche in the 21s century. She's ok, but working the line in Loyalton. I am glad the fire is 60% contained, but cannot get that poor wage out of my head.
The Loyalton Fire from Stampede Lake earlier in the day. Photo: Mike Rogge
The county we live in lifted our pandemic watchlist restrictions today, too. That was good. Tourism is open. Schools are closed. That is not so good. I read in the local paper housing prices are skyrocketing in every mountain town. Early in the pandemic, I did not always understand those fleeing to the mountains. I do now.
The mountains are not calling, as every pillow with a John Muir quote reads, but rather they are opening their arms to offer the only hug one is allowed to receive during our six-feet-apart existence. Vast landscapes say come home to the mountains where you will be safe. My soul has repeated this message in my waking hours since March. Come home to the mountains where you will be safe. Hell, while I'm writing this, it is a message I see my inner monologue repeated over and over in trying times since I was a boy.
This is difficult, Mike. This is scary, Mike. You are ok. You are in the mountain where you will be safe.
We, my wife, son, two dogs, and me, are in the mountains. And today, we are safe.
The Loyalton Fire at 10:13 p.m. on Saturday, August 15. Photo: Mike Rogge
Living in the mountains, during a pandemic, as wild fires rage is still a trying time. A friend in Jackson says the smoke of our fires reached there today. I apologized as if I was at fault. He knew what I meant.
As the tragedies and fires and, frankly, the shit keep piling up, I am here at the office burying myself in old copies of Mountain Gazette. Behind me are the words of those who came to the mountains before us chronicled nicely by our faithful intern. Their stories remind us life in the mountains has and always will be a challenge. As Sibley says, living in the mountains is not a lifestyle, but a way of life. We are mountain people and this is our way of life.
In the absence of a cure for Covid and inability to escape for a bike ride with my son, bringing back this title is keeping my spirts alive. That, and sharing dreams and cocktails with my wife every evening. This title is giving me a purpose to wake up in the morning, drink a cup of coffee, read a Fayhee or Dorworth classic, make plans and build relationships over the phone. Zoom sucks. In our political polarization we can all agree on that.
Mountain Gazette is giving me a sense of place and a reminder of why we, you, us call the mountains home. The mountains are where we are. The mountains are who we are. And that fills my soul.