On most days, the sky over Logan, Utah, is blue as a mountain bluebird and bright as a jewel. This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived. There are 10,000-foot peaks on either side of the valley. In the spring, the green creeps up the hills until it almost touches the snowline. In the fall, the endemic canyon maple blazes red. In the winter…
No one believes me when I tell them that my little town is the 10th worst city in the country for short-term particle air pollution. No one believes me when a black cloud of exhaust shrouds the entire town and makes our air dirtier than Beijing’s. No one believes me. Not even the people who wake up surrounded by a toxic fog that gets dirtier by the hour for nearly a week. Some weather we’re having, the neighbors will say. It’s so dark out, the people will grumble in the grocery store line.
In the winter, high pressure systems form in the Pacific Ocean and make their way across the west coast of the United States and settle over Cache Valley. Those 10,000-foot peaks form the walls and the high pressure acts as a lid. It seals us off from fresh air for days at a time, sometimes weeks. School recess gets canceled. Our eyes burn. It burns in our noses and our throats. Some people think they can taste the air pollution, but really the particles are so small, they penetrate our cell walls and travel around in our blood until they lodge somewhere permanently, like our brains and our hearts.They call each lungful a “dose” of pollution and we are encouraged to limit our “doses.”
In the winter we’re too depressed to remember the bluebird days, and more dangerously, the blinding glory of those days makes us forget entirely about the time we spent sitting in our own filth, breathing the quiet shallow breaths of the dying. There are too many of us here, but I don’t want to leave.