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Monday, November 30, 2020

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The NASA/NOAA Suomi NPP satellite caught sight of this massive blanket of wildfire smoke across the US on Sept. 7.

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During the first week of September 2019, my wife and I attended an outdoor music festival in a forest outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. At the time, it seemed like a crazy experience because it rained one night and some things got a bit muddy. A Prius may have even been stuck for a moment. Pretty wild, right?

Wild by 2019 standards, maybe. This year is whole new kinds of actual wild. Like everyone, I spend each day trying to wrap my head around living through a pandemic, a shattered economy and whatever you want to call politics in 2020. But it all hit me in a new way today, a routine Tuesday in 2020. 

A haze of smoke has been hanging over the valley where I live in northern New Mexico for the past few days, obscuring views of the nearby mountains and casting a brown tint over the horizon. Fires burning across the western US have created smoke so thick satellites are having a hard time distinguishing the acrid plumes from regular clouds

Of course, with the gusting winds whipping up sand and dirt from our drought-laden high desert environment, it’s hard to tell where the smoky haze ends and the dust storm starts. The two seem to be joining forces in a kind of apocalyptic atmospheric hookah hit from hell. 

Weirder still, there’s hope the ongoing western wildfires will be put out by the freak, late summer blizzard that’s expected to drop up to 18 inches (46 centimeters) of snow on the Rocky Mountains tonight and tomorrow, following an extreme temperature drop of almost 70 degrees Fahrenheit (about 39 degrees of Celsius) in under 48 hours.

This marks only the 15th time in the past 12 decades a weather station in the US has seen temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius) one day, followed by snow the next, according to climatologist Brian Brettschneider.

Yet this, somehow, seems almost less crazy than the rather banal encounter with a mud puddle did a year ago. 

This is the impressive desensitizing power of 2020. This is what it’s like to live through history. Eventually, somehow, life will return to a state of such mundane comfort that pushing a vehicle out of a bit of mud will make for a lively anecdote. Years from now we will tell younger people about life in 2020, and it will seem like a foreign world to them — the way we might think of the Great Depression-era US or wartime Europe today.  

But it seems we may have at least a few months if not a year or two to go before previously bizarre and unusual happenings live up to those terms again. For now, the best truism to live by is the one we have all learned in recent months: It can always get weirder, and it probably will. 

I’m so accustomed to unprecedented oddities I fully expect dragons to appear in the skies at any moment. The real question is whether their appearance would surprise anyone living in 2020. 


Corrugated metal roofing material blown off a shed next to a New Mexico field and is now dancing across the road at bumper level. 

Eric Mack

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