For much of November, the air here in Knoxville smelled of smoke. Election day in particular had a sour, tobacco-y aroma, a stench with none of the kindness of the familiar scent of wood-burning fireplaces. It’s common to smell smoke here: the sausages sizzling in the big grill, on the second floor of a nearby apartment block that a Latin family sometimes lights, the smell of the food crossing the street to where I walk the dogs in the evenings; the gas flames cooking the burgers and vegetables in many homes’ outdoor grills; the warm drift of smoke from chimneys.
The smoke of a burning forest, however, is different. A forty-five minute drive away, the mountains were ablaze, a combination of an arsonist’s work and a horridly dry season. That fire reeks like a gigantic, pluming cigarette, bitter, sharp. Some days in November, the distant hills and ridges disappeared into the haze, even off to the north, miles and miles distant from the mountains themselves. Fortunately, at the very end of November, a storm passed through my town, the first rain in ages, striking down dead tree branches into our back lawn. The air, here in Knoxville, cleared after that, refreshed, but the fires in the mountains continued to burn.
In the middle of the month, my parents visited, coming from London to meet my son for the first time. It was a lovely time. We all drove to Gatlinburg, a pretty town in the foothills, bright with winter sun. We ate catfish and bbq for lunch. We weighed up taking the ski-lift up into the hills above the town, for the view, but decided against it because of the baby’s heavy pram, and the crush of the tourists in the lift.
I vaguely assumed, as I often do, that there would be time to come back and so on.
Now, that lift is destroyed. The town has had to flee the town. Friends have lost businesses and homes.
I keep hoping for more rain, but so far, the week continues to be dry.