It’s been a weird couple of days in Albuquerque.
Last night, driving down from the foothills near sunset, I could see a thick haze building across the city, and by the time I got home I could smell smoke. Turns out it’s blowing up from a wildfire in southeastern Arizona (the Wallow, 106,000 acres at last report, a crown fire, which is the fastest hottest kind) and it’s making people edgy. It settled down today, but around sunset it moved in again. Lissa and I are sitting by an open back door, and I can smell it, feel a little sting in my eyes.
It’s a weird sensation, the power of smell memory, a hearkening to my childhood in the foothills of LA’s eastern suburban fringe when the Santa Ana winds would blow hot and dry from the desert. I was in sixth grade when this happened most memorably, when the Lytle Creek Fire fire roared in across the mountain front above my house. The college where my dad taught, out east of town, was evacuated, and they sent us home from school early. I remember walking home with my friends, watching the columns of smoke to the east. It was such a grand adventure, all false bravado and danger and drama befitting a bunch of 11-year-old boys.
That evening, Mom and Dad had packed the car with whatever fear and treasures grownups pack at a time like that, ready to evacuate, and we sat out watering the wood shingle roof and watching the fire advance across the mountains above. At some point I think the crews must have lit a backfire near the bottom of the hills behind the house and I remember that you could feel the heat from where we were, which must have been a mile and a half away.
Which is really just cheap prelude to my favorite noir. Stop me if you’ve heard this before:
There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.
I confess I like the smell.