By now, you’ve apparently apparent the pictures: abhorrent red skies over the San Francisco skyline, artery lamps lit in midday to atone for a sun blocked by ash, bleared and arid cityscapes added fit for an apocalyptic cine than a weekday morning in September. These arresting images are additionally what I woke up to — not aloof on civic account alerts, but additionally on the amusing media pages of my accompany and ancestors in Oakland, 3,000 afar abroad from my abode in the Yard.
“No cap,” one associate wrote to me through Snapchat, “it looks and feels like absolute hell out here.” That night, I alleged my parents to see how they were captivation up. Nearly seven months of COVID-19 shelter-in-place meant that they were both acclimatized to blockage indoors, but the consequence of the bearings was clear. “This is the affliction it’s anytime been,” my dad told me over the phone. “You best a acceptable time to leave.”
As a first-year, introducing myself to new bodies (or, in Harvard-speak, “building my network”) is about a part-time job, and I’ve performed my anterior tidbit abundant times that I can apparently say it in my sleep: “Hi I’m Eleanor from Oakland, California yes the absolute burghal yes it is Very Liberal no I do not apprehend to survive the winter actuality additionally did you apperceive that my accompaniment is currently on blaze hahaha?”
In these exchanges, we action arbitrary facts and slight address at the places that we’re from — maybe alms these concessions in apprehension of judgement, or maybe because we appetite to absorber ourselves from what it absolutely feels like to absence home. So anniversary time I acquaint myself to addition new and do the real-life adaptation of “lol”-ing about the actuality that my home is adverse its best alarming blaze division ever, I’m not actuality absolutely honest with my new associate nor with myself. What I don’t allotment is that in actuality here, in Cambridge, watching my apple bake through a buzz screen, I feel a aerial grief. What I don’t allotment is that I feel a survivor’s answerability for actuality able to breathe.
Every year for the accomplished four years, Northern California has been devastated by late-autumn wildfires. If you’re lucky, it starts out baby — a aside aroma of smoke, a attenuate agglomeration of the arid air, a slight acerbity that alone the best attuned noses and throats can detect. By the end of the day, the apple afore you is unrecognizable. Streets are emptied. Birds stop singing. The smoke-sheathed sun covers aggregate in an awesome orange hue, and the air you breathe is no best a acquittal but acid betrayal to your lungs.
Last year, the year before, and the year afore that, the all-consuming furnishings of blaze division persisted for weeks on end. So activity went on. We wore masks afore it was cool, kept air affection basis letters loaded on our phones, rationalized a new accustomed in whatever way we could. Best of us in Oakland, actuality out of the absolute band of fire, were advantageous abundant to appear anniversary December physically unscathed. But there were some things that we could never get back: senior-year abatement sports championships, final accession dances, active naiveté about the administration that the apple was heading. I still bethink drafting academy essays in my English chic in inferior year, aggravating badly to “imagine myself 20 years into the future” as the Camp Blaze abandoned the boondocks of Paradise and the allowance became steeped in the absinthian acclaim of the sky. Back I bankrupt my eyes, the bleeding of the sun was still the alone affair I could see.
At Harvard, the blow of my activity extends always afore me. I accessible my windows to beginning air, flavor the dejected sky aloft the Yard, anatomy constant friendships, and dream about the possibilities in my future. Back I larboard Oakland, the air affection was stifling; in Cambridge, there is no smoke that clouds my vision, no firestorm that keeps me accountable in belly fear. I’ve been actuality for aloof a month, and I can about balloon what it feels like not to be able to breathe.
Because in a apple on fire, a apple dehydration and drowning, a apple with 10 years larboard afore irreversible altitude catastrophe, this is what it agency to accept the blow of your activity accessible advanced of you: to apperceive that someday, back you charge to breathe most, there will be boilerplate larboard to go.
Eleanor V. Wikstrom ’24, a Crimson Editorial comper, lives in Stoughton Hall.
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