Contrails in the sky


Special to the News

As I sit in my White Salmon home, it is the unlikely chore of preparing my tax return that forces me to think once more of that fateful late-summer day last year. According to the forms in front of me, the IRS wants to know if I was affected by the events of Sept. 11

I saw the same television images people all around the world witnessed, I shared the fear, the horror, the numbness. How could I not be affected? Surely there isn't a person in our community who wasn't affected by what took place on the other side of the country, no matter the distance.

While I have no personal connection to New York City, the editor of a magazine for which I write was in Manhattan that day and walked the smoke-filled streets. A bond broker I know had colleagues in the World Trade Center. And my flight attendant friend was grounded far from home due to the events of that day. But those things didn't touch me directly and I guess the IRS wants to know if I was affected in some more tangible way.

No, I didn't lose any property, all that I own is here in the Gorge. I didn't lose any income -- unless you count the stories I will not be selling due to the economic downturn that's hit the publishing world. The biggest thing I lost was a sense of security, as did many others, whether in New York, Hood River or The Dalles. But IRS forms don't have a worksheet for calculating those losses.

In the days following Sept. 11, as that gray dust cloud loomed ominously over Manhattan, the sky above our Gorge homes remained blue, unmoving and serene. How could things here appear so normal when the world was at that time far from being normal? But as I looked more closely at the clear skies I realized that they were too clear, too blue. The sky was anything but normal, but it took me a while to realize why. And then it hit me. Those linear white clouds created high above by Portland-bound jet planes were missing. There were no contrails.

Since all airplanes had been grounded, those regimented clouds that usually crisscross the skies above Mount Hood and Mount Adams were nowhere to be seen. Left behind when the distant thunder of high-altitude jet engines had passed, these miraculous manmade creations were simply gone. In more normal times these contrails represent man's great ingenuity and amazing inventiveness. Today we are all too aware that it was man's darker, colder inventiveness which turned our flying machines against us.

These days airports seem as busy as ever and the contrails are back: familiar white cotton lacing the skies, glowing orange and purple as the sun sets beyond Cascade Locks. Once again they drift on strong westerly winds high above, submitting to the airflow and taking on new shapes. They adapt to their new state just as we must adapt. And just before one cloud dissipates, to be lost forever, another Seattle-bound plane flies overhead, bringing more signs of our enduring resilience.

Was I affected by the events of Sept. 11? I look again at the IRS form, and even though I know it to be a lie, I check the box marked No.

Martin Trees is a writer who lives in White Salmon.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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