I just read a headline in the Seattle Times (Aug. 11, 2017) that the smoky “apocalyptic” skies are expected to clear by the weekend. “I feel trapped,” someone is quoted as saying, referring to the inability to do normal outdoor activities. While I’m not in Seattle at present, I do understand that feeling. We are up north in BC on our boat and there is truly nowhere to run, nowhere to hide from the smoke which is as bad, if not worse here.

One of the reasons we cruise north in the summer is for the beautiful blue skies and long sunny days, hikes among the cedars and along the salty-smelling shorelines. And the sunsets! Beautiful, orange and pink and gold streaked sunsets that span the sky. The smoke has changed all that.

About a month ago, July 19 to be exact, my husband and I were on Quadra Island, in the Desolation Sound area. Needing to get to the other side of the island, we hitched a ride from a woman with two kids in the back seat, who explained that she, her husband and four children were mandatory evacuees from Kamloops, BC, where one of the many fires consuming the region was a block from her home. Thanks to the generosity of someone who learned of their plight and offered her home on Quadra, they had a place to stay to wait it out. At this point there was no evidence of smoke in our skies. It was clear and sunny, blue skies and beautiful mountains in the distance. I was moved learning about what they were going through, and even more so by her positive attitude and her gratitude for the help they had received.

When we returned to the same spot a week ago I spotted her car outside the store and knew she was still there. The next morning we awoke to what we thought was a hazy, misty morning that would clear when the sun burned through, but soon enough, hiking on the spit, we could see that the entire Desolation Sound area was enveloped in smoke. I knew at that moment that her home was most likely gone.

I am having trouble breathing at times, getting headaches and a little bit of a sore throat. Yesterday, we went on a slow hike, taking our time so as not to overtax our lungs. At one point, near the coast, I smelled the briny salt water and the pine-tinged air for the first time in a while. I have taken to wearing a respirator for an hour here and there. When I take it off, the smoke smell is startlingly apparent.

The Canadian papers contain images of people going through the ashes that remain of their homes. People are displaced and struggling and grieving their losses. For us, at some point, the smoke and unhealthy air will pass. The sky will become blue and the sunsets will be pretty and we will talk about that smoky few weeks of the summer of 2017. But for many of our neighbors in BC this has been a life changing summer.

IRENE PANKE HOPKINS ( is a freelance essayist and writer. To comment on this column, write to