The West is on Fire as the Rest of Us Drown

Bay Area baseball under skies raining ash tonight in Oakland

A friend, writer, and former coworker was a big kayaker. Mostly rivers and rapids up in the Sierra. She was at a level where she was starting to compete at regional events; she was good at it, preternaturally so. 

One morning she was out on her own and got caught in some whirlpool that was unexpectedly strong. It flipped her over and caught her in an endless spin inside nature’s washing machine. She described it as being a turtle on its back but also underwater. 

Try as she might, she couldn’t flip over, and soon her arms stopped moving, and her lungs began to fill with the icy cold sting of meltwater. 

She didn’t remember much after that, but she described it as feeling the ultimate terror take you over and then suddenly, letting it all go. “I was calmer and more relaxed than I’ve ever felt in my life. It was almost lyrical. And that’s when I realized I was dying.”

For one reason or another, there was a break in the whip of the whirlpool, and she was spat out of it. She suddenly surfaced and found the last of her strength enough to paddle over to shore and collapse on the river bank.

Another kayaker made his way down the rapid and called 911 upon seeing her slouched over and guppy breathing. She spent a few weeks in the hospital recovering and a few more months coughing up brown parts of the river, and dead leaves. “Breathe while you can,” she said. “And don’t take it for granted.”

Her story never left me. Not sure why. Maybe it's because the way she tells it is the way you or I would talk about slamming a finger in a car door on a quick trip to the grocery store. It just happened, and she got lucky. And that’s that. Life goes on, or it doesn’t. 

And I think for a few, maybe elite athletes who compete at high levels at dangerous sports: skiing, hiking, ultra-running, surfing, climbing, there’s that agreement you make with yourself every time before you go out that you may non come back the same or even at all. 

So then, these same folks, many of whom live in the Sierra, KNOW THE DRILL. They understand better than you or me or basically anyone we know how to balance life and our existence with nature. And right now they are—how do I put this? They’re not panicking anymore. They’re not waving their arms or splashing to surface. 

They’re calm.

And that’s what scares me. 

Because right now, the 32-day-old Dixie Fire has become the first in state history to burn from the western slopes of the Sierra all the way across the mountains to the eastern valley floor, burning across parts of Butte, Lassen, Plumas, and Tehama counties along the way.

It’s never happened. Nothing this big has.

The fire grew to more than 675,000 acres by the end of the day Thursday. Multi-county evacuations are still happening. And while the blaze is almost 40% contained, it’s so big that it’s still growing by nearly 40,000 acres every 24 hours.

At the same time, about 80 miles southeast, the Caldor Fire is burning in El Dorado County. The fire started Saturday but spread quickly to nearly 6,500 acres and threatens the Grizzly Flats and Happy Valley subdivisions about halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe.

The blaze is currently burning out of control in the rugged terrain of El Dorado National Forest and has consumed several structures and prompted evacuations—one CalFire battalion chief also said firefighters were having water access issues.

So those two are happening at once and at some point—maybe not this week or next, but at some point soon—two of the state’s biggest fires in history are going to meet up. And then media will scramble to coin it, “Megafire” or something beyond morose like that that takes all the tragedy and humanity away for the sake of making it sound like a summer blockbuster.

Those who live in the Sierra, their arms are noodles. Nature is having its revenge. We kept taking oil from the ground and putting toxins in the air. It was inevitable. We’ve known for forty years—in some sectors longer—that this would be the ultimate end game to endless consumption in the name of nothing.

Nobody got happier, or wiser, or fitter, or better. We were just bored, that’s all. This is from boredom: boredom and meanness. 

So what happens next, when it all goes away? The plant and animal life, the trees we need to breathe? Where do we go once they’ve gone? What happens when a dystopian fiction ain’t even nearly as bad as what’s ahead for us? Do we let that calm set in and let it take us? Do we carry false hope that we somehow get spit out and deposited onshore just to keep going? I don’t know. I’m not sure. 

Like you, I’ve never been trapped under this long. It’s never been this dark. Just hold on, I guess. Breathe while you can .


Giants vs. A’s

The Giants are entering the weekend Bay Bridge Series with the best record in Major League Baseball, coming off one of the hottest thirty-game stretches in history. Yet they are still only 2.5 games ahead of the Dodgers.

As good as the Giants have been, the reigning world champions have matched them every step of the way.

With three games in September vs. the blue, these long-time rivals will likely take it down to the final weekend to see which one gets home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and which one is going to play a one-game do-or-die Wild Card play-in likely vs. the one team nobody in baseball wants to face: the Padres. 

Over in the AL West the A’s are 2.5 games behind the suddenly listless Astros, and have more than a fighting chance at winning the division coming in hot from second. Both teams, who’ve relied heavily on bullpen production throughout this season, are showing signs of non-starters being overworked.

The Giants hope that Friday’s starter Alex Wood can give them six or seven solid innings in Oakland. Wood has been on a slight uptick of late. But before giving up only two runs over 6.2 innings against the Colorado Rockies earlier this week, he had allowed 13 runs in his last 15 innings of work over his previous three starts. 

Against the A’s he’s been decent but with too small a sample size. His last start agaisnt the green and gold was June 26 where he gave up a single earned run in 5 1/3 innings of work and struck out eight. 

The A’s have their 1a ace going tonight in James Kaprielian (6-4, 3.33 ERA.) Kaprielian has given up just five runs over his last two starts, and both of those games were Oakland victories over the Texas Rangers.

But Kaprielian shines brightest at the Coliseum and is 4-2 with a 1.42 ERA at home this season, providing potential for the A’s to continue to rest their pen and manufacture some runs.

Both pitchers work quickly when they’re grooving, so scoring may be limited. 

Also worth noting: earlier this week, the Giants became the first team to cash in their over/under for the season, surpassing 75.5 wins with a victory over the Colorado Rockies on Sunday. They became the third-earliest team to clinch an over since 1990.

Take the Oakland A’s +105 vs. the San Francisco Giants -125 and the Under (9) at 6:40 p.m. PST Friday in Oakland