Smoke and the Reptile Brain

smokey seating
Sunshine captures a film of particulate air.

A mantle woven of smoke settles just below my neighborhood. The weaver sits far away, but is busy, busy, and her work piles up to climb the slopes, and the wind is able to tip it over the ridges, so it flows down into the hollers and valleys. My house is halfway along a slope, so the weaver’s work rises nearby in grays and ashen blue, while I watch the distant vale thicken to brown. 

Logic invests a perfectly reasonable explanation: a pair of wildfires many miles distant; one to my north and another raging westerly. Be rational, my verbal brain says. This does not threaten Meadows of Dan.

I set foot outside and my nostrils fill with an age-old aroma. My heart quickens, my eyes widen and demand that I turn my head to see behind. The threat is near enough to smell and my reptile brain is on “flight” overdrive. Some DNA-level instinct knows this is not a “fight” situation. It kickstarts imaginings of piling pets and necessaries into the car, ready to flee.

How will I know when that time has come? Calm yourself, I say. If you must, worry about something real, not imagined.

Carrying on the chores, my alarms are silenced from constant exposure and habituation – the odor is, quite simply, ubiquitous.

Then the wind picks up. The aroma grows stronger and the hue is slightly more pine, or more plastic-like (is that a house burning?). The hairs on the back of my neck rise again and the autonomous brain returns. There is no visible change in my environment – I see no smoke rolling over, as the fog so often rolls through our homestead.

But my imaginary weaver continues to ply the warp and weft of combustion byproducts, and the fabric falls to the ground, piling below the loom, rising as the wind carries it like a flag of warning, invisible yet tickling my reptile brain and deeply disturbing my life.