When I was a kid, I never understood Chicken Little. I hated the way he ran around over reacting about something that wasn’t real. But this week, I knew exactly how he felt. We had weather that made me think the sky was falling in. Suddenly, all that I knew to be true in the world, those basic and inviolable laws of nature, were no longer. The world was completely upside down and it felt like anything could happen. It felt like the sky could fall in.
Since my last post, the fires in the north have garnered national media attention. In typical fashion, the reporting seemed a bit dramatic. I scoffed when the Huffington post called the fires ‘apocalyptic’. Yes, sure, the photos are pretty dramatic, but apocalyptic is a strong word. I shrugged my shoulders when I heard that our air quality was worse than Beijing. Okay, maybe it was for a few days, but its wood smoke, so its got to be better than breaking in the toxic fumes of a large city, right?
Since my last post, the fires across the north continue to burn. They are getting bigger and closer to town. The power station was out of commission for several days and the town was running on diesel generators. The neighbouring community still can’t even assess their power lines due to the fires. The road in and out of Yellowknife is closed most days, opening only intermittently. Travelers are stranded all over the place, and the delivery trucks are getting through only in dribble. At times the shelves in the grocery stores are nearly empty. The closest fire is some 30 km away, and there was concern a few days ago that it might breach the containment lines. If it did, its hard to imagine what would happen here. Yellowknife is a town with one road. If that road was closed, and the airport closed, being the nearest thing we have to a fire break between us and the wilderness, where would we go to escape a fire? The isolation of this place, part of its great charm, certainly makes us vulnerable as well. (I am not comforted by the complete lack of discussion around disaster planning either.)
Things all came to a head a couple of nights ago. The wind switched to the northwest, putting us directly downwind from that near by fire, and all its smoke. At the same time, the mother of all thunderstorms was brewing right over town. It was about 5 pm, and suddenly, the sky became dark. The numerous planes that come and go all suddenly headed to the airport, and we saw two big water bombers dump their load on the edge of the lake – in preparation for an early return to the airport.
Then the sky became entirely black, covered by an enormous cloud, leaving nothing but a thin band of blue sky to the south. At this point the experience changed from interesting to bizarre and inexplicable. I don’t know if it was the light shining from the south, or the polarizing effect of the clouds, but suddenly every pane of glass we could see in town was glowing with a slivery sky blue light, as if lit from within. Even the white boat hulls and the seagulls were luminous, glowing in the dark sky. Literally glowing. (Apocalyptic zombie seagulls perhaps?)
And the sky became darker and darker, until all we could see were the lights of town. It was eerie to see darkness at 5 pm in a town where the sun currently sets at 1030 pm, but it was doubly eerie because the darkness was of a degree we had never seen before. (One friend, who was out of town on a lake at the time, says it was like being in a cave – he could barely see 10 feet.) It was the blackest of nights.
This incredible, apocalyptic darkness was accompanied by thunder and lightening. By red lightening bolts across the sky, and big and prolonged roars of thunder. Yes, that’s right, red forks of lightening. Apparently something to do with polarized light yet again. It was unnerving, being in a metal house floating on the lake during a thunder storm, with red lightening. I texted my friend to see if she thought we should head to town, but she said NO, she wanted to leave town and come to the lake, where she was less likely to be caught by raging forest fire. (Several families out of town and nearer to the fire, were advised to evacuate at about that time.)
Surprisingly, there wasn’t much wind, at least not anything like the usual winds of 50 km/hr we’ve been having of late, so that was a pleasant turn of events. And then it started to rain, which was nice too, as we really need some. Turns out it was the strangest sort of rain however – it was black. (The end of the storm revealed tarry, oily black rain on everything. The house, vehicles, the deck and the boats – all filthy.)
As this all played out over two hours, we had a bit of time to get used to the strangeness of it all: the total daytime darkness, apocalyptic zombie seagulls, houses that glowed from within, the red lightening, and the black rain. We came to realize that this might be all we were in for, and perhaps the lightening strike, the tornado and apocalyptic zombie giant man eating pike were not going to show up this time.
Gradually the thunderstorm lessened, the sky lightened, and filled with a glowing orange light that slowly turned into the color of a ripe yellow peach. Shortly thereafter the smoke rolled in and the air quality became much much worse than Beijing. Its been quite awful the last couple of days – its hard to be outside for too long without feeling ill. But, we are still here, and we give thanks for the fact that the world as we know it is mostly back to normal. As for me, I have a new found empathy for Chicken Little.