It is forecast to be 95 degrees today in Portland, 100 tomorrow, and 94 on Wednesday. It cools somewhat for a few days, and then spikes back up into the mid-90s. Since 1980, the number of 90 degree days in Portland has averaged just 11. So far in 2018, we've had 26 of these scorchers. Our all-time record in 29, a mark we should eclipse by Sunday--with weeks left of summer. In the past fifty years, only four times has the city seen even twenty 90-degree days. (Of course, they have all occurred in the past five years.)

The effects of this are only very distantly related to beer. If I wanted to shoehorn a connection into this endless summer of fiery skies, I could point out that at least some of the hops have already reached harvest in Yakima and that fresh hop season may begin weeks early. (This could also screw up the fresh hop festivals, if all they have left are the dregs of beers gone by.)

In fact, my main interest is to just give you an update from meatspace--that lived experience which often goes unnoticed in discussions of other things like beer. Here in Oregon, the summer has become something to endure, not enjoy. For decades, the typical summer pattern went like this: the cool Pacific Ocean kept the rain onshore until July, and western Oregon would enjoy summers of modest temperatures through September, without much rain. Hot snaps were never that hot, and they didn't last long. When I moved here in 1986, no one had air conditioners. Open windows were adequate, and the heat waves weren't hot or long enough to justify all the effort it would take to wrestle an air-conditioner into the window.

Summer started this year in May, as the days warmed up to the 70s and 80s. By mid-July, the really hot weather had settled in, and we have only had seven days below 80 degrees (the summertime average high) since then. That means, of course, that the summer fire season started early, too. Last year was apocalyptic, and smoky orange skies covered the state--even the coast. It didn't seem like it could get any worse, but this year it's at least as bad. They may burn another two months.

The sense of life, when the sky literally seems like it's on fire, is deeply unnerving. We are animals, and buried under the modern, cognitively-sophisticated lobes of our brains are older, more primitive sensors, that monitor things like heat and stars and the movement of the earth underfoot. When something unnatural happens, that part of the brain tells animals to beware. Species depend on a few individuals making it through certain potentially population-destroying events, and so we ready ourselves in the face of the unnatural. That part of my brain has suffused me with a feeling of disquiet, and as I look at these forecasts of more boiling temperatures and sample the scent of wood fire on the breeze, it worsens.

I have been incredibly busy this summer; Saturday was the first day off I'd had since July 22nd. I am fried from the work, and you might have noticed some of those effects here on the blog. But what's worse is that the normal resilience I'd feel is being interrupted by the heat and fires that just never seem to let up. They hang overhead like a bad omen. We had a tiny break this weekend, when clouds rolled in and even dropped a shower or two. I was texting with a friend who was watching people dance in a parking lot as the rains fell. For a moment we could relax and hope the land would heal. But now the heat is back and a city of people bracing, hoping the whole thing will end soon.

Regular beer talk will resume soon enough. I just thought you might be interested in hearing what life was like on the ground here this unending, blazing summer. The talk of beer may be routine, but in Portland, it feels anything but.

Jeff Alworth4 Comments