SAN FRANCISCO – The new thing we do here when we get up in the morning, even before brushing our teeth and making coffee, is looking at the sky. Then we browse the internet to see if our eyes are misleading.
“Purple again,” I told the woman this morning. Not the sky. It was the color of soot, as if a child had taken dirty fingers and rubbed them all over the horizon. Purple is the color of the air quality chart. This means that we have hit “very unhealthily” our air, filled with microscopic particles that, speaking of children, are dangerous for them to breathe in their soft pink lungs. And not so great for those of us who already have a few miles on our lungs.
So we started passing one air purifier from room to room so that our two children could do SOTG (school on the go) without getting SADA (soot in the blood). We clean each room, then turn the device and I watch to maintain the unpleasant optimism, which is my hallmark and fatherly duty. But you can say that things are bad when you start reaching for comparisons like, “Well, we may be in Flanders in 1918. (Maybe that pink hue on my glasses is actually ash.)
In fact, I don’t have to go back to Belgium during the First World War to know that things could get worse. We could be in the suburbs of Portland or many other places in the Pacific Northwest right now. There, the ashes in the sky come with frantic flames that create real refugees, which means people fleeing death with whatever they can carry.
So yes, we are privileged: a roof over your head, a freezer full of meat and a cleaner, stocked with vegetables. My wife and I stay at work, and no one we are close to has died from this terrible virus.
That said, I have had a migraine for three days, running out of bad air (or self-pity, or both). My wife is a neurologist who specializes in treating migraines, and she says it should help when you’re sitting in the dark. But I can tell you that on Wednesday morning – when we woke up and looked at the sky and it was the orange and black of Halloween – the all-day darkness calmed the headache a little.
I’m a science reporter and it’s hard not to understand what’s happening now as a science story, as Covid-19 takes advantage of population density and other modern factors to jump and jump around the world and from cough to nose and lung to lung, and forest fire to take advantage of our human spread in the urban / wild relationship and turn our Manifest Fate into so much hay. Mother Nature arranges, you could say, which is a really clinical and unsympathetic way to see things, to the point of being fatalistic.
What my family wants is not some “context”, but to go out and play. Or even inside and play.
“Dad, can I leave my room after school?” My son, 12-year-old Milo, asked me this afternoon when he stuck his head in my home office. He had ordered him to stay in his bedroom with SOTG and his turn with the air purifier.
“I’ll check the air,” I told him.
I looked outside and it was yellow-gray like a smoker’s teeth. I looked on the internet and it was still purple, even worse than this morning, the air quality index now reads 228, a higher level of “very unhealthy”.
This weekend was supposed to be a relief, the start of some socially distanced sports, including baseball and tennis training for my son, tennis for me, maybe family cycling. Probably now. I hope to just look up at the sky and on the internet and see only red (just unhealthy) or even yellow. That would be moderate.