Thursday, September 7, 2017

Now And Then

The livid yellow of Tuesday's smoky urban dawn brought to mind a similar morning in 1969. Then the air was chartreuse rather than raw umber. Breathing brought doses of nitrous oxide and lead from the fumes of motor fuel. It is impossible to appreciate the music and culture of the period without factoring in the cognitive effects of environmental toxins.

That period had been described to me as an improvement over the previous era when coal was the dominant energy source. It was replaced by oil after World War Two. Cities were charcoal grey, a palette that prevailed along Highway 99 well into the Seventies. A Chicago native once explained to me that the city wore little but black clothing to hide the floating smuts that smeared garments worn on the street.

A beloved elder once questioned the choice of a daughter who preferred city life. Conditioned to the pristine Twenties air and water of remote Western Washington, he wondered publicly why his offspring should prefer to live breathing "the smoke of a hundred thousand fires".

When regulation of VOC emissions affected the formulation of house paint, I wondered whether that refinement was necessary. A recent week-end maintenance project that generated unavoidable fumes brought home how benign the atmosphere has become in the last ten years. I realized how profoundly aggressive toxic scents impair my perception and judgement. It's a miracle how well things used to function, under the circumstances -30-


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