The red skies were swollen with cloud. The sun was nothing but a red disc in the sky. A cloying humidity hung in the air. I caught the lingering scent of campfire as wispy particles landed on my skin and disintegrated into ash. The blue sky lingered behind the smoky haze blanketing the coast of British Columbia’s lower mainland.
It has been an extraordinarily dry summer here in Vancouver B.C. The image of our temperate climate has changed in an uncommon season of drought. Our verdant grass is a crisp wheat brown; the trees bow beneath the weight of wilted leaves; our thriving forests have become the perfect kindling for erratic lightning strikes, or the cavalier toss of a burning cigarette. Our fire season started early this year. By June there were already over 150 fires burning in the province of British Columbia, ravaging our forests and the communities that surrounded them. The lower mainland had been fortunate to escape the scorched fate of its interior.
The hot weather has always been my temporary reprieve from the pain and stiffness of RA – but exercise also plays a key role in keeping me well. After a particularly busy period, I recently climbed back on the exercise wagon with two of my favorite outdoor activities – swimming and walking. I had just resumed my desirable routine when the winds changed…
I woke one morning feeling thick and sluggish – the kind of feeling that is usually associated with a sudden change in weather. I looked out my window to see the clouds had rolled in, but when I stepped outside, I quickly learned that our smoggy world was not due to the arrival of anticipated rain clouds. It didn’t take long for my lungs to start their own protest amidst the smoldering haze. The atmosphere was thick and the wheeze in my chest made it difficult to function. I was suddenly aware of how fragile RA makes us. I had only noticed slight issues with my lungs over the years, mostly when I was in a major flare, but I could certainly feel the weight on my chest in these days of smoke and fire.
Air quality warnings were put into effect. The elderly, children and people with chronic illness were advised to remain indoors. The fresh marine air was heavy with smoke and ash that lasted almost a week. Just as quickly as I had climbed back on the exercise wagon, I was promptly kicked right back off. I became sullen and bad-tempered, frustrated at being locked up with my flaring joints. I pouted, I growled, I stomped about my apartment like a child throwing a tantrum.
Frustrated by my lack of activity, I plopped myself down to watch the evening news. Several communities across the province were placed on evacuation notice – a few towns were already vacated. I watched people’s homes get licked by flames; I saw the fear and sorrow in their eyes, and the magnitude of their situation doused my petty frustration. My pain was lost in the flares of Mother Nature. I suddenly realized how lucky I was. So what if my joints hurt? I had a roof over my head. I had not been burned out of my home, lost my possessions or my livelihood. My petulant disease was infinitesimal compared to the trials of these poor souls.
I learned to be grateful for my temporary confinement. There was no reason I couldn’t exercise indoors. I pulled out my yoga and fitness tapes, my physiotherapy sheets and uncomplainingly got to work. I reflected on all the blessings I had – I had wonderful friends and family; I had a roof over my head; I had my passions; I had a chronic illness from which I could still extract small victories.
We all have trials to bear but in this season of smoke and fire, I learned to step back and pick my battles. In my few days of confinement, I relearned to appreciate every little thing because you never know when the wind will change.