Growing up in Southern California I always knew Halloween was coming because the sky would turn orange. The Santa Ana winds would begin blowing in late September and by early October there would be at least one wildfire in the hills surrounding the greater LA basin. Smoke would drift with the winds, filtering the sunlight and giving off a crisp, woody scent to the filtered haze.
That’s what we had for a fall season. No turning leaves, just a turning sky.
When I was in sixth grade there was a fire in the Malibu/Topanga area much like the one that is currently burning. I remember how alien the news accounts were at the time, mentioning an area I had visited as a boy scout — Camp Slauson located in Lower Topanga Canyon — and wondering if I would recognize it from the news helicopters, imagining I could make out it’s trails and campsites even if on fire.
Now on the other side of the country, watching the hills of Southern California burn again on television, I feel a displacement that is exactly the same as the one I felt almost thirty years ago. Only now the woody scent comes from fireplaces, and the only orange in the sky comes from the color of leaves against the blue. And I’m still trying to pick out identifiable landmarks as though I’d know what they looked like on fire.