The air has been terrible for weeks. It brings back dim memories of smog-choked mountains from my first nightmare summer here, images I’ve told myself in the intervening years I must have misremembered or exaggerated in my own dark gloom. I check the air quality in the Los Angeles Times every morning, little colored circles, green, yellow, orange or red. We have been orange almost every day, “unhealthy for sensitive individuals.” Once we were even red, the only one, a danger for everyone, while the rest of southern California was green or yellow. It’s so bad it makes me not want to live here, has me back on craigslist combing for rentals, a part of me screaming inside to get away. Do I live near a nuclear power plant? Head for Blythe or Algondones? Can I trade this sun, this warmth I’ve become so spoiled by? They’ve been in the 60s at the beach all summer. It makes me shudder. (Oh, and yes, I realize summer has not yet actually begun, but we’ve been in the 100s for over a month already. It skews my perspective.)
Can I live like this, with this foul air, if it’s only for a handful of months every third summer? In Ajijic it was the spring months that were bad. I arrived in April, shocked by the horrible air. They allow agricultural burning, so all the fields in Jalisco were turned to ash in preparation for the summer planting, and the smoke would gather above the lake, blotting out the mountains on the southern shore. Like here, people would gaze back at me, a blank look on their faces, when I lamented the smog. How can they not notice? It’s with me always, my body’s instincts on guard against it. My lungs take shallow breaths, as though they might reduce the damage. And our mountains, our glorious mountains that are a presence everywhere, are diminished by the smog. My eyes seek them out again and again throughout the day. But instead of their surprising nearness, their magnificence that makes my heart leap in my chest, they are made distant, dulled, lessened by the ugly air that clings to them.
When I lived in Ajijic I imagined a life where I would escape each spring, moving the cats to Puerto Vallarta for April, May, June. Now I fantasize about escaping to Ajijic for July, August, September. Soon the cicadas will arrive in the village, if they aren’t there already, harbingers of the nighttime summer rains. I lived in the hills where the lightning clung, the thunder crashing close to our tile roofs in the middle of the night, like no noise I’ve ever known, the fierce roar of the gods. I’d lie on my back in the dark, my bedroom windows open to the north and east, the lightning bright behind my eyelids. I’d listen to the thunder’s echoes roll out across the lake below, the sound reverberating for long moments as it traveled across the basin. At some point the downpour began, rain racing off downspouts like Niagara Falls, making rivers of our steep streets. In the mornings the wet cobblestones would shine in the sunlight, all dust banished from our world. I’d look out my kitchen window to the nearby ridge, the crest of our hill. The air would be washed clean, too, in the brilliant summer light, the kind of sharp clarity that makes you want to launch yourself from the rooftop out into the blue sky, to take wing across our world.