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:
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—