Tuesday, July 22, 2008

THE AIR WE BREATHE

Been up in the Berkshires a lot lately, where for at least some days the distant hills and mountains were shrouded in a haze that unfortunately was more pollution than moisture.

Back in Jersey, the air was even thicker with humidity and pollutants. The muggiest heat wave here so far this year, at least the way it feels to me.

I don’t ordinarily enjoy community pools, I always preferred the ocean, but the other day I was at the pool with my ten-year-old and spent what seemed like a few hours soaking and swimming and floating in and under the water, coming out with prune fingers like when I was a kid.

The humidity may be worse here in Jersey, but the polluted air isn’t, when I think of my almost twenty years in Southern California, where on my arrival you could see the distant mountains towering over the Los Angeles basin, or Catalina island “twenty-five miles across the sea” maybe eight months out of the year.

But by the time I left it was reversed. If you were lucky, and it was an especially good year, you could see the mountains and Catalina for what amounted to two months worth of days a year.

And let’s not even talk about Beijing, where at least in the TV images, it looks like you can’t see the tops of skyscrapers or nearby neon signs on a bad smog day.

This has happened before. In William Blake’s London the famous fog was more often air polluted from fires and industry etc. And the smog made famous by L. A. in the 1950s has never been as bad as it was then, in terms of visibility.

But in terms of the pollutants now crowding the air we breathe, they have increased not only in magnitude, but in the types of irritants contributing to the pollution. Just an easy and obvious example in my area, as it was in Santa Monica, is the animal—pet and feral—fecal matter blown into the air by those gasoline polluting “leaf blowers” that not only disturb the peace noise-wise, but have us breathing in particles of some nasty stuff.

Like all of life, the world, and people I guess, there’s good and bad in everything. And the Berkshires are still one of the most beautiful and natural—and as far as I can see pollutant-free environments—I know. So, as always, I remain hopeful. But on these muggy, blazing, roasting, burning days of the summers of recent years, I miss those “lazy, hazy days” Nat King Cole sang about back in the day.

I wrote a poem about this back in Santa Monica in the ‘80s I think, though it might have been the early ‘90s. It’s in the Black Sparrow collection IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE, and I thought I’d offer it up here as an expression of what I’m trying to say in this post (it's supposed to be centered, but even though I centered it in the post, and when that didn't work I wrote it up as a Word document and centered it there, it still returns all the way to the left when I post it, so imagine it in the middle of the page, with the lines justified left as they are here, but the title centered over the poem). It’s called:


WHAT?

Who won? I feel like
I’m almost there—what
were we competing for?
“the store” “the farm”
the barn where it all
began—the can of spice—
the nice lips on her face—
the place where we fell
asleep at last in peace &
woke up to the air we
remembered that isn’t
there anymore—the emp-
eror has no lungs left—
he’s only pretending to
breathe—& as for us—
who won—what?

4 comments:

Toby T. said...

It's hazy today over the Absaroka Mountains of Montana, but only because of a dramatic wind storm yesterday, blowing in moisture from who knows where. This year, a cool wet one, it's the floods. Last year, it was the fires--surrounding Livingston, darkening the skies for months, and polluting the air from distant fires in addition to our own. All this from years of dry winters and summers. When I lived in NYC I remember summer evenings when a sea breeze would come up and blow pollution into the ocean. Or perhaps that was my imagination. Mountains and cities don't mix. Google satellite photos of Santiago, Chile, where inversions cause citizens to choke six months a year. Or more.

brian salchert said...

If you want it, Mr. Lally, I have
some information about indenting
on a blogspot blog. My e-mail
address is
thinkinglizard@aol.com
and my blogspot blog is
bajsalchert.blogspot.com

Did some experimenting today
and found out there is only
one way to indent without
having to use a special
ASCII instruction, a way I
learned several years ago
from a technical site.

The Compose mode does not
recognize indenting.

Thank you for sharing your poem.

Curtis Faville said...

If you don't think there's a relationship between pollution and changing administrations, think again.

Here in the Bay Area we have four big oil petroleum refineries going full-bore all the time. During Democratic Administrations, the clean air regulations have been vigorously enforced, but during the Bush Administration, violations have been allowed to occur with increasing frequency. During weekends and holidays when the industry watchers are off-duty, the refineries spew out egregiously, knowing they won't be cited (caught). Sitting up here on the northern edge of the ridge that includes Berkeley, Kensington and Richmond, we experience this as strong burnt oil smell and dark grey haze on weekend nights. Everyone knows what's going on, and nothing is done about it. Open burning of waste gases and toxic byproducts. Over the last 15 years, many of the gains accomplished to curb this activity since the late 1960's, have been eroded by laxity and provocation. The obscene amounts of money which this industry generates has enabled it to buy every jurisdiction at every level.

Just this week, Chevron "bought" the right to raise the levels of pollution it's technically allowed to spew by offering bribes to local schools, police departments and hospitals. Public opinion is conflicted. As the price of gas continues to rise, the excess money being accrued by the petroleum industry compromises the system still further, in a death spiral of corruption & pollution.

The stakes have never been higher. If we don't nationalize the petroleum industry, eventually we'll be right back where we started in the 1940's when large swaths of the urban industrial landscape looked (and felt) like Hell incarnate. When I was growing up in the Bay Area in the 1950's the linked communities along the I-80 corridor were wastelands of pollution. Before the highway construction of the late 1950's, the road ran straight through Rodeo, Pinole, Hercules, San Pablo to Richmond and Berkeley. The air was so bad you had to roll the windows up and hold your breath. The Bay was filled with black sludge , which lapped up against the tidelands of Point Richmond, Berkeley, Oakland and Alameda, and seeped eastward towards the Delta. No matter how much the price of gas rises, nothing would make returning to that condition worthwhile.

Petroleum industry profits are becoming so great there's virtually nothing that can be done to control them. It's beginning to seem like Saudi Arabia, where a small cadre of ruling families run their whole nation as an oil company. If we let them, they'll drill across the North American continent, and bring back nuclear plants. Nuclear waste disposal is at a standstill, but you can bet that contamination accidents and more "storage" sites are in the offing.

Not a pretty picture.

Lally said...

Curtis, I certainly agree that a McCain administration would be much worse for the environment than an Obama one. Absolutely. And few have been as bad for it as the present administration. No question dems have it all over Republicans when it comes to the environment, as they do in most other policies that concern what's best for the future of this country and the planet.