Mack Williams:  Smoke gets in your nose

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 25, 2022

Annually, and like clockwork, there will be a strong smell of wood smoke from one of my neighbors’ “wood burners” during the cold months of the year! And once in a while, there will be a respiratory advisory for something dwarfed by particles of pollen: ash particulates from the smoke of distant forest fires. Last year, there was an advisory on for ash particulates which had been brought all the way from Midwest fires by prevailing air currents.
Throughout that week, my nose’s sensory cells caught a faint, smokey whiff, causing some of my personal history with smoke to “flash before my nose,” so to speak.
While growing up on the Old Concord Road, I received my father’s (Bernard Williams) second-hand smorgasbord of pipe, cigar, and cigarette smoke (in randomly rotated order.) I don’t think the term “second-hand-smoke” was even thought of yet!
Then, there was our annual burning of the leaves. Nowadays, in some cities, trucks equipped with elephantine hoses vacuum fallen leaves to use as mulch for decorative city plantings. It’s a pity certain places don’t allow leaf burning now! That annual burn was sort of like a cathartic sense of absolution for a year’s built-up pile of sins!
But sometimes, the necessary “tradition” of “The burning of the leaves” coincided another necessary “tradition”: “The hanging of the clothes” when my mother(Lorraine Williams) hung out our wet, wringer-washing-machine-washed clothes on the clothesline. One of the main themes of the “Burning Man” event is to stress “community”(and back then, everyone in our community burned leaves). Needless to say, following the line-drying of my clothes during leaf-burning time, my Granite Quarry School classmates probably wondered if Smokey the Bear were concealed somewhere in the classroom, learning along with them!
Years ago, I wrote in detail of the time my next-door neighbor, Steve Ritchie and I (mostly I) accidentally set fire to a section of woods adjacent our houses with a home-made skyrocket. But technically, that was more of a “fire memory” instead of a “smoke memory.”
Many years later, while driving up to Appalachian to pick up my daughter, Rachel, I noticed a prevailing odor of smoke. When I looked past the roadside guard rail down into what the mountain people call a “holler”(valley),I saw what resembled a low-lying cloud stretching slowly upward into a solid blue sky. It was a more-than-modest-sized forest fire!
I remember a big forest conflagration several years ago in Tennessee, the smoke of which could be smelled overwhelmingly in North Carolina and Virginia. That was a week-long, constantly strong smell of smoke, not just an “olfactory twitch!”
I seem to remember there being no rain during those times of distant smoke smell. Perhaps ash particulates aren’t much good for cloud seeding.
But during those times, the high-flying particles of ash always seemed to cause a strange mixing and mind-boggling confusion in the palette of colors which comprise the daytime heavens: the gaps between the bright clouds appeared a little too gray to be blue sky, and a little too blue to be gray clouds.

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