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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thanks God for rain

Say what you want about all the rain we have had lately but we need it. High water in the rivers cleans the gravel where the salmon spawn.  A flood washes more gravel down the river in soft beds that are easy digging for the salmon to build their nests in. 
The rain acts like a filter in the atmosphere giving us some of the purest air on the planet.  Living on the Olympic Peninsula, we tend to take clean air and water for granted, that is until it’s gone.
 You can go without water for a few days but we will not last long without air.
The American Lung Association says that 64,000 Americans die prematurely every year from breathing polluted air. That might be just another meaningless national statistic until you watch it happen to a friend firsthand.
He had kicked cancer but, as the old saying goes, “You should have seen his foot.” Beating cancer gave him pneumonia. Things did not look good.   He wanted to go fishing. Maybe it was part of what they call the bucket list since he was due to kick it at any time.
He traveled with a van load of oxygen bottles but he said he didn’t need one that morning. The air was clean and he was breathing fine. We were going fishing.
We launched on the Hoh River on one of those fall mornings when the sky was blue and crystal clear.
We caught a big bright silver right off the bat.  I was taking a picture of my friend with his fish when I noticed a small white cloud on a distant ridgetop. It was no big deal at the time but along about noon the cloud had turned brown and ugly.
It sank into the valley and turned the air into a blue haze. We found ourselves under a thick blanket of a toxic fog of burning stumps, plastic and earth that soon had my friend choking to near death.
We got off the river. He never came back.
Within a day the smoke of this and many other fires had traveled east to cover the high Olympics. Standing on a peak on the upper Dungeness you could get a hazy view of Seattle, swathed in a brown cloud of smoke that a temperature inversion had trapped in the Puget Sound Basin. 
Seattle was suffering from air pollution. It was just lucky they had no idea where it came from. They would have blamed the loggers.
Before you blame loggers for air pollution remember, you are reading this in a newspaper made of wood in a house made of wood. We need wood and besides, our forests have been catching on fire ever since they started growing, sometime after the last Ice Age. 
Once we started logging the slash or leftovers of the operation would catch on fire and burn entire watersheds.  Controlled slash burns are part of an effort to keep the rest of the woods from catching on fire. Large piles of wood waste are routinely covered with plastic to keep them dry, then ignited with a variety of fossil fuels.
Fires are an inevitable part of the forest ecology whether there are loggers involved. 
Would you like the fires out in the open where they pollute an entire region? Or in a biomass facility that filters the pollution out of the atmosphere?
It is not a perfect solution but this is not a perfect world. It is a choice that we can make.
Until then, thank God for the rain.

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