They say there is so much ash that if it was all piled together it would weigh as much as an aircraft carrier, and maybe that is a lot because an aircraft carrier is big, or maybe it is not so much because an aircraft carrier can float. We tell each other this thing we’ve heard as we walk our dogs through the gray flakes that settle in the front yards, in the spaces between the thick succulent leaves. We are the only ones outside because we live in apartments and the dogs have to walk, have to paw at the powder piling up on the sidewalk, curious because it is new, because they don’t understand it, or maybe they do and keep it to themselves. We tell each other the thing we heard about the ash, say “an aircraft carrier” and shake our heads, can’t remember where we learned it but pass it along anyway, relearn it from each other, make it true because we keep saying it and hearing it, because it feels real enough, because if a whole town has been wiped out, there has to be at least that much.
When the sky looks the hottest, fire orange or sickly yellow-gray, the air is the coldest, colder than it should be, colder than usual, cold enough for a jacket and not just a sweater, another layer on top of the regular layers. “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” someone said, not Mark Twain but someone we have forgotten, maybe someone we could only remember for lying about things Mark Twain said. There should be another quote for the days the smoke chokes out the sun but maybe they did not have those days back then. If they tried now what would they say, what could they say but “this sucks” and tell us Mark Twain said it first.
It is always colder out here in the summer, or maybe not always, maybe I just remember the coldest times, maybe I only took pictures when we were bundled up, boots and sweatshirts and scarves on the beach, beaming at the camera, happy to sit in the cold, or at least we looked happy and in a photo, is there really a difference?
It is impossible to take a good photo with a phone when the sky is the wrong color. The screen shows us something different from what our eyes see because our phones think they are smarter than we are, change all the colors around and try to turn the sky blue. It makes everything look like some other world, not the one we are in. We have to try to explain it to those who don’t live here, can’t show them, can just tell them the thing about the aircraft carrier.
Jessica Dawn lives on an island in the San Francisco Bay with her very old and very charming dog. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in HAD, No Contact, and Rejection Letters. Find her on Twitter at @JuskaJames.
Photography by: Patrick Perkins