The metaphor comes from a magician's ability to use a series of mirrors and a disruptive, distracting burst of smoke to make things appear as they really are not. Deception. It's a powerful tool. It makes you pay attention.
As I sit here at the kitchen table this evening and look south over the rolling prairie, I don't get very far. The sun is setting and normally I can see the rock outcrops a mile to the south playing their form of deceit with the shadows of a setting sun. But tonight, the half mile to the edge of the horse pasture is difficult to bring in to view. National headlines have played out the scenario for everyone: Fire. Destruction. Heartache. Danger. And while the nearest fires to us are hundreds of miles away, there was no getting away from the acrid smoke that burned the lungs and eyes for those working the land today. And it's been that way for several weeks. On the way home it was hard distinguish the dust of a working combine from the stifling atmosphere surrounding it.
True, the air has cleared on some days. But on the days when it fills our prairie valleys it is hard to remember what a true summer sun looks like. It's hard to remember that the colors of summer are not supposed to be shrouded in a bluish smoke or an eerily yellowish haze.
And so I think how the prairie continually deceives me and the rest of those that inhabit it. Just when we think we have it figured out, when we think the rains and freezes might come up at the appropriate time, when we find the beauty in the isolation, when we think we have a handle on the markets, when we think we are finally and most certainly in sync with the land, we are slapped back to reality.
So about that smoke and mirrors: for as hard as it is to love the land on a day like this, I know that this too shall pass. That the air quality warnings will go away, that the smoke will diminish, that the rains will eventually start to wash away the sorrows of those impacted directly by wildfire. I know that this is just a cruel magic trick that Mother Nature plays on us, kind of like the fact that during a drought, weeds are at their heartiest and most productive while the crops and grasses we desire are not. These are the days that keep the West on their toes. We need these moments to remind us of how good we have it the rest of the time, of how lucky we are that most days, the magic is on our side.