Mad Cat

Get down!

My Guy just yelled at the cat, but only after a loud crash in the vicinity of our dining room.

Sophie … the likely suspect … left my office with an attitude moments before the commotion.

PLEASE. PLEASE! Open the window.

She begged this all day. The featured image at the very top shows her this morning … that’s not a pretty fog in the background. That’s smoke at 10:00 in the morning.

Sophie is so confused. She runs from window to window. She pounds on the glass in furious repetitions with her little paws. She whines. She even took a swipe at me with her claws … just close enough to let me know that she’s not playing, but not so close as to draw blood and get herself in big trouble.

Why won’t I let her indulge in her usual bird and dog watching/listening? Don’t I know how much she loves every sound of life outside our windows? And it’s not even winter when I can be expected to be stingy and not let cold air in and expensive heat out.

Unsuccessful at swaying me, after trying on and off for hours, she sulked out of the room and threw a cat-tantrum, knocking something heavy enough to make a huge thump off of the table downstairs. I didn’t hear the sound of shattering glass, so I’m not going to investigate. I’m a little worn out too.

It’s been like this all day today … and all day yesterday … and if the forecasts hold true, Sophie might have reason to keep up the tantrums into tomorrow.

Her problem?


We’re surrounded by a thick layer of faux fog. What should be a reason to pull out pumpkin spice and sweaters … is not. It’s not an early autumn fog, but smoke … smoke from fires near and far … trapped in a weather pattern that has it hovering over every town and city in the state … seeping into our homes … into our very pores.

We took a quick drive to check on our garden in a little town 15 minutes away. On a normal day, the background would be filled in with a forested line of hills, just inside the Idaho border.


The smoke is a cruel reminder of the devastating fires that decimated at least 95 homes and 100 other structures just 30 minutes from us … not even a week ago. A Labor Day firestorm … a storm that has scarred far more than the territory.

With fires all over Washington, Oregon, and California … and now the smoke … we’re all a little on edge.

The way of life here in rural Eastern Washington is that we depend on our volunteer fire departments. That means that every time fire fighters are needed, an alarm goes off at the local fire station, alerting farmers in the field or others who may not have seen their cell phone or heard their pager. Cell reception here is spotty and unreliable so the alarm is necessary.

We’ve heard the alarm way too many times the last few weeks. With an unusual dry August, farmers have had to battle field fires on top of helping with the tragedy in Malden. Now, every time we hear the fire trucks roar through town, it’s in the back of all of our minds … Malden … how quickly it burned … they had 10 minutes to get out.

It’s in the back of all of our minds … fear of a fire overtaking our town. What used to be unheard of is now a worry.

But we try to act normal.

Our volunteer system is sometimes confusing to newcomers because the noon whistle is an old tradition here as in many rural towns throughout our county. The fire alarm also goes off at noon every day to signal lunchtime. To try and eliminate confusion, a separate noontime alarm has been moved from the fire station to our main street, right above the library. It goes off promptly at lunch time (which is 11:57 AM in our town … apparently, no one wants to be late for lunch around here). Hardly anyone gets rattled by that alarm … except maybe me. I work in the library, so get a good jolt when I happen to be there at noon … I mean … at 11:57 AM.

To get back to Sophie’s tantrum … the source of her problems is not so much the smoke as it is me. Of all the challenges of this last year … COVID, lockdowns, family crisis, the blizzards of the winter before. Of it all, the smoke is hardest on me.

I find it hard to breath, as every one does. But even more so, I struggle with a choking sense of claustrophobia … I hate not being able to see … to not have a good sense of where I’m going … or of what’s coming. Fog has a similar affect on my nerves. More than once we’ve driven across the state when it’s been entirely enshrouded with fog. Sad to confess, but I was tense and snippy the whole time, insistent that My Guy keep his eyes sharply on the road. Fog or thick smoke … they both make me feel very vulnerable.

I’ve had thoughts of crawling back in bed and pulling a book close or even just going under the covers and trying to sleep the day away. But even with every window shut tight and with diffusers in every room and vinegar simmering on the kitchen stove to purify the air, our drafty old house can’t stop the smoke smells from creeping in. Trying to hide from the smoke only made me more aware of it.

People who know me well, think of me as pretty tough. Well … this is my kryptonite. It’s not a fear of fires … it the feeling of suffocation and being trapped. These kinds of feelings put me on the edge of panic … just to be real.

So … I can give in to that edge of panic … or try to turn it into a better than hoped for day.

My List for Coping:

  • plug in decorative strand of lights in the kitchen
  • fill up the diffuser with calming oils
  • get out battery powered candles that we use during the holidays
  • upbeat music … my style of upbeat is the Piano Guys at an earsplitting level. I know … I’m a wild one
  • check in with the kids (our adult children) on Face Time
  • check in on friends who had family that had to evacuate because of the threat of one of the major fires (all is okay now)
  • check the forecast to remind myself that this WILL end
  • meditate and pray … give thought to what the people in Malden endured as smoke and fire raced upon them with little time to respond … of the people in Oregon who lost whole towns as well … of firefighters who never get a breath of fresh air as they fight to save the property and lives of strangers
  • pray for the families who tragically lost loved ones … and remind myself that my struggle to breath is nothing
  • pray for resilience for all of us
  • distract the cat (and myself) with treats … cat treats for her … people treats for me

What did not make it on my list is open the windows.

And Sophie is still sulking about that.

Poor, mad cat.

Thank you for reading “Small Stuff”.  This is the second of two blogs sites that I keep.  You can find more on my thought&faith blog at Wishing you a beautiful day full of the Small Stuff that transforms life into BIG STUFF.

A note to my “silent” readers … thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to read my work. I’ve learned that many of you are shy about commenting or hitting the like button, but I want you to know that I appreciate your visits and invite you into the conversations whenever you are ready.

Wishing you peace in all things … Shelly


Fire Season

Fire season …

Unfortunately, it’s a thing around here.

No one in the Pacific Northwest is ever truly immune. Forest, deserts, harvest season on acres and acres of dusty, dried wheat fields … it’s all tinder waiting for the slightest spark.

We’ve all been holding our breath because 2020 has been such a wicked year already. But … sadly … we’re not getting a pass on this one.

Washington (my state), Oregon, California, and even my very close neighbor, Idaho … we’re all on fire.

As I sit in my “creator’s space” on this unusually warm September evening with my window open and type … all I can smell is “campfire”. Only, this would be the eeriest of campfires as I’m sure no one around me would dare to light a fire pit or sneak in one more fire for the season. We’ve been shaken too hard in the last 72 hours … the Malden/Pine City fire (if you’ve missed the news, they’re the never-heard-of-before rural towns that lost over 95 homes in just a few short hours on Labor Day) are only 30 minutes from us.

This photo of Pine City (part of the Malden fire) was posted by one of our local fire fighters on the Tekoa Fire_Whitman County Fire #1 Facebook page.

Our volunteer fire department and local farmers dropped everything and rushed to battle the blazes. As news got out, volunteers delivered water, coffee, pizzas, and other food. Posts flew across Facebook announcing that people had trucks and trailers ready to haul livestock and personal items if needed. Farmers emptied fertilizer trucks and loaded up with water. Churches in a near by town immediately opened up to provide shelter. Another town, which battled blazes of its own and lost four homes earlier that same day, gathered up water, sleeping bags, personal hygiene items and more to be delivered as night was falling.

Even as the smoke clears, it’s still hard to breath … not because of the air quality … but because of the realizations that are setting in. Friends … family … co-workers … they have nothing … in an instant they’re starting over.

That could be any of us.

And it still could be.

I had people coming to one of the tiny libraries I manage to recharge computers and use the internet. “Could I refill my water bottles?” one sweet gentleman politely asked.

He and his wife are two of several in the area out of power because the fire wiped out power poles. One person said 40 poles were down … another person responded and said, “Oh no … it’s more like 400.”

Whatever it is, several of our rural neighbors are sitting ducks of sorts … surrounded by the stubble of freshly harvested fields … continuing hot temperatures … no electricity and NO WELLS. They’re kind of helpless. Even those with generators, aren’t fully operational. The power company hopes to have power restored by Friday but there are no guarantees. Temps are climbing … we’re back in the 80’s with 90 degrees predicted by Sunday before finally cooling off next week.

I drove to Colfax yesterday – our county seat and one of the other towns hit hard with fire on Labor day – to drop off books and materials to our “mothership library” and to mourn with other staff over the complete loss of our Malden library as well as the town’s city hall, community center, fire department, and post office. Worse, our librarian there lost her home … and yet, she was already busy, finding ways to help her neighbors.

This is the post office in Malden. Photo came from a friend’s FB post, but I’ve also seen it on a news site. Sorry, I don’t know the original source.

Along the drive, I couldn’t help but notice how many farms had sprinklers going full force in the middle of the day, trying to create a wide berth of green, moist ground around their homes and out buildings. (These folks, thankfully, are on a different power grid and didn’t lose their pumps.)

Out-of-control fires are yet burning to the north and west of us … likely why the air reeks like a giant campfire. Reports are coming in of more and more homes lost. And now there is news of two children in different situations who succumbed.

So … so … heart breaking.

Just before I started writing tonight, the town fire siren went off. Those who are not part of the volunteer force stepped into their yards … crossed the streets to neighbors. Where were the trucks headed? Did anyone see smoke? Is anyone saying anything on FB? Is it Malden again?

Turned out to be a tractor that caught on fire … it was quickly put out and all were safe. A local farmer told me earlier in the week that nearly every farmer he knew had problems with tractors and combines starting fires in the fields this year. “We didn’t get our August rains. That usually settles dust and chaff mid-harvest. It’s been really bad out there without that rain.”

The heart break is widespread … friends on the west side of the Cascades have had to evacuate. Densely populated areas are up in flames … even in the south end of Tacoma. Flames near the mall threatened the school where I formerly taught and where our kids attended. Last I heard, the fire was not out, but under control and the threat pass. With unusual 90 degree temps there yesterday and light winds, concerns rode high.

And then there’s Oregon … several towns wipe out … beyond devastating. Confirmation is coming that some of those fires had natural causes, but that others were set by arsonists. Suspicions of arson are circulating in Washington too. Let’s pray not. What heartless, idiot …

I won’t go there …

Back to my original thoughts …

The number of fires are crazy to fathom, but huge fires are nothing new here. I remember my father, a member of our local, volunteer fire department, being called out many times. One memory especially sticks out of him being gone for several days to a fire “over the hill” in Idaho … in the forests surrounding Potlatch.

Two or three days into it, Mom and our friend piled five kids into the car and drove to deliver sandwiches, coffee, and cold cokes to the crew.

I picture still, my dad, leaning heavily on a shovel beside our car, hardly recognizable from the soot on his face … sweat caked to his sideburns … black silver dollars under his eyes.

Few people remember that fire or talk of it any more. There have been more since … worse ones … they’re talked of for awhile … then tucked behind as we sojourn on to the next set of life’s challenges.

“We survive these kinds of things,” I remember my grandmother saying. “That’s what country people … what farmers do. They plant another crop … build another house … dream another dream.” Maybe grandma wasn’t quite that poetic or Pollyanna-ish but she said something very close to that when I asked what people do after fires and storms take everything.

In the case of Malden … that probably exactly what they’ll do.

City of Malden viewed from a drone. Picture is from a friend’s FB post.

Thank you for reading “Small Stuff”.  This is the second of two blogs sites that I keep.  You can find more on my thought&faith blog at Wishing you a beautiful day full of the Small Stuff that transforms life into BIG STUFF.

A note to my “silent” readers … thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to read my work. I’ve learned that many of you are shy about commenting or hitting the like button, but I want you to know that I appreciate your visits and invite you into the conversations whenever you are ready.

Wishing you peace in all things … Shelly