Illustration by Timothy R. Butler/Stable Diffusion

Strange Smoke

By Timothy R. Butler | Posted at 11:23 PM

I’ve always been a fan of smoking, as long as that refers to smoking delicious meats. Barbecuing and related culinary feats let us taste summer. This year, though, is a year of strange smoke.

In the Bible, Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu encounter God’s anger for offering up “strange fire” instead of following the proper temple rituals. That ends the offering of strange fire. Our present strange smoke, however, keeps billowing on.

Here in St. Louis, I’m 600 miles from the nearest border crossing to our northern friends, but numerous days in the past few months I have been able to smell Canada. At least, smell what was once part of Canada before it burned. The wildfire smoke that was getting attention, until the media got bored, not only has cast a haze, but spread a discernible scent throughout the United States.

Folks in other places may be accustomed to a sky of hazy complexion, but here in the Midwest, we do not have a lot of forest fires. Smokey Bear’s warnings are the closest I’ve ever been to one; this year’s encounter with Canadian wildfires has felt strange indeed.

More than strange. Unpleasant.

As wildfires return to the news after the devastation in Maui last week, I noticed a less devastating presence of those Canadian fires returning here. Whenever the wind blows my way from Canada this summer, I’ve ended up with incredibly nasty headaches and I suddenly realized that my built in “smoke detector” had again turned on.

No, I’m not crazy. This is a known symptom of inhaling wildfire smoke, I’ve learned.

This is not to trivialize the far worse effects for those directly in the path of flames. I am simply struck how something can float undirected in the air and impact a person out of nowhere. Wildfire smoke can cause a whole host of health issues, though I cannot recall the last time it was even a concern (if ever) here.

All I know is that the smoke has left me feeling in something of a haze all summer. Thinking is harder when one’s head throbs and when it goes on day after day, it (smokey) bears down on you.

Unintentional smoke — or smoke belonging to other people — is unpleasant. Remember the not-that-long-ago campaign to rid the world of smoking in restaurants and other public venues? The magical barrier signs that said “Smoking Section” and “No Smoking Section” did nothing to stop that smoke from working its way across the room.

Call it wise health concern or unhealthy government overreach, cigarette smoking has been marginalized. Wildfire smoke heeds no smoking bans, but we’ve cleaned the air of the sorts of smoke we have control over right?

Nah, that would make too much sense.

After spending decades trying to rid the world of tobacco smoke, everywhere I drive, I see marijuana dispensaries. I wrote about that a couple of months ago. Marijuana carries the usual pollutant problems of tobacco smoke and a smell even fewer people appreciate. What makes it more acceptable? In the backward logic of the present moment, other issues such as making secondhand recipients high against their will must make it… “better.”

The wildfire smoke brings the latter problem into even sharper relief for me. Getting to breathe clean air makes us feel better and think better. We cannot regulate away wildfires, no matter how much politicos talk as if we could, but why are we actively encouraging noxious air pollution from (still federally illegal) drugs?

I’m tired of strange smoke. Summer should be filled with one kind of smoke that is delicious, not strange: barbecue.

Timothy R. Butler is Editor-in-Chief of Open for Business. He also serves as a pastor at Little Hills Church and FaithTree Christian Fellowship.

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