Burning questions: When will the smoke come this year?

Jaena Bloomquist
Jaena Bloomquist

The new year is here, and with it the usual questions. Well, the usual questions for me, a local mom of two with an unfortunate penchant for tasty substances that are bad for me.

First: “How many days into January will my diet plan fail this time?” Thus far –since I started dieting three decades ago– it hasn’t survived past the mid-month mark, when I inevitably start stashing donut holes and jumbo-size bags of barbecue chips on the top shelf of the pantry where the kids can’t find them.  So, answer: Pretty much ten or maybe twelve days, tops, before ultimate failure.

Second: “How many cheesy unwanted Christmas toys can I covertly remove from my kids’ rooms and spirit away to the thrift store without them noticing?” Answer: Just about zero. Even the two-year old knows when his precious junk has been messed with.

Third, “Are the Niners going to make it to the Superbowl this year?”

Yes, these are the usual questions. With the accompanying usual answers. (Although this year, maybe the answer to the third question will be a “yes,” fingers crossed.)

But this year… and last year… and the year before… I started asking a new question as the new year’s contemplations began:  “When will the smoke come this year?” It’s not a question of whether the smoke will come anymore, but when. And that’s a pretty new thing.

The second question is even more alarming: “Will the fire come too, this time?” Because here in the Tahoe area, the flames have come licking pretty closely around our ankles, some years closer than others. And always that infernal, doomsday smoke, turning the world to choking twilight, making the air thick, like we’re breathing a giant charcoal milkshake instead of the fresh, clean mountain air Tahoe is famous for.

The shift has been strangely unobtrusive. It happened over a handful of years, and it revealed two strange and rather unsettling phenomena: One, humans are indeed very adaptable. I went from being shocked when the Camp Fire ravaged northern California and plunged our world into smoky dusk, to cringing as the snow melted in spring each year, wondering when the joy of warmer weather would give way to dismay as the plumes of smoke started making their way across the sky.

The other phenomenon revealed by the shift is how quickly things have changed. In 2015 I was pretty much clueless about how serious climate change was. Now, signs of it are everywhere you look. And sometimes you don’t have to look; you just have to breathe.

My kids have been born into a very different world than the one I was born into. My world –or so I and others of my generation thought—was one of stability and inevitable progress. The weather was mostly predictable. The technological progress was wondrous and exciting. The advances in medicine and communication seemed to point towards ever-escalating quality of life for everyone. No downsides, only up. Progress with no cost.

Welp, sorry, kids. There appears to be a cost. Like, a really, really big cost. For us in the Tahoe area, it’s smoke and fire and drought. For the east coasters, it’s hurricanes and superstorms and flooding. For the south it’s excessive heat. And that’s just this year, and just in the US, where climate change hasn’t really hit hard, yet. What about a decade from now, when the planet’s gotten even hotter? I’ve heard that some areas –notorious among them the western USA—may soon become uninsurable for homeowners. What then?

Well, 2023, I will say this to you: To hell with my diet plan. I’ve got to figure out how to keep my kids from breathing smoke again this year, when they should be enjoying this (usually) incredible mountain air. Now that’s a new year’s resolution.

Jaena Bloomquist is a Truckee resident, climate advocate and a mother who has burning questions. She can be reached at

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