Between Friday and Saturday the Pacific Northwest entered a heat dome that will not be exited until tomorrow night. There has been nothing like it in living memory. Indeed, some experts are even claiming that if you lived in this area for 1,000 years "you'd likely only experience a heat dome like this once." That estimation might have had meat on it in the past, but certainly not in a future that's radically changed by global warming. Expect more recording-breaking days (115 degrees?) in the coming years.
Also, expect to see and hear things you've never seen before as high temperatures fry on normal habits and behavior. To give one example, the combination of exceptional heat and the cool waters of Lake Washington has made little beasties out of human beings. All they want is to have fun in the water. Nothing else matters right now. And so, on Saturday, June 26, when the lifeguard-less south section of the lake was packed with swimmers, jet skis, stand-up paddleboarders, boats of all kinds, one also saw, at around 5:30 pm, members of the Seattle Fire Department searching for a man who fell into the lake from a boat and didn't resurface.
HAPPENING NOW: Rescue crews with the Seattle Fire Department are searching for a swimmer who reportedly jumped off a boat on Lake Washington and didn’t resurface.
Under the water, divers working against time to save a life; above, people partying and boozing on swaying boats. There was even a boat that caught on fire—a Seattle Police Department officer who, with SFD vehicles, was parked outside Lakewood Moorage told me about this incident as a jet ski roared in the distance. The body of the this man has yet to be found, though the lake claimed another life the following day, June 27.
It was impossible for this scene (rescue teams/party boats) not to remind me of Pieter Bruegel's famous 1560 painting, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, which the poet W. H. Auden described in this powerful way:
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
The scene at Lake Washington replaced the ploughman with the party animal.
Another example are the crows. Have you noticed how they are losing their shit? How they hate this heat, and all they can do about it is complain amongst themselves or to people passing them on the sidewalk. How they've had enough of it. How they want it to end. "How the fuck is this happening??" And their caws sound more and more broken by the day. The crows were just angry on Saturday, but by Monday their spirit was broken. The caws were garbled by their heat-addled bird brains.
Another example is remembering. It is certainly a harder thing to do in all of this the heat. Names and words and images of past events seem to evaporate like water poured into pots with plants.
Another example was spotted during a morning walk that was only bearable for an hour. It was in the high 70s when I left the house in Columbia City; it was in the high 80s when I reached the park in Hillman City; it was 100 when I returned home. And it was in the last section of the walk that I noticed a good number of people with mindlessly open mouths. It was as if their lower lips had just given up on everything and were now ready to fall off their faces. On a number of occasions, I wanted to stop a person and push their lower lip up to where it usually was before the heatwave.
But I need to say something about the park I visited on Sunday, June 27. It's called Hitt's Hill Park, and it has no open spaces and lots of big and very leafy trees. This place, a palace made of shade, was mostly cool for much of the morning. And the breezes (even very slight ones) that entered it were granted a coolness that achieved a state that can only be described as spiritual. In fact, when walking down the street, each patch of shade offered its own relief from the falling heat.
We will certainly leave this blasted dome with a much deeper love for beings made of wood, evolution's second-greatest production. We need trees growing wherever they grow in this city. These high temperatures are not going away. They will come back again and again, and again we will need leaves to cool our parks, yards, streets, and sidewalks.