Since the Okanogan country is so big, our botany class could usually plan alternative field trips to avoid unpredictable bad weather, sideskirt road detours or just head for the best displays of flowers on that particular day. But one day the entire region was blanketed in wildfire smoke that had blown in from the next county.
There were no alternates to our planned hike to a wetland. And so the class went to a bog in a deep valley near the Pasayten Wilderness.
Well, it really wasn’t a bog. It was a poor fen, which is a bit of minutiae that nobody but a wetland scientist would care squat about. Being summer, the water table was low and the ground was dry. The smoke blocked the sun so the weather was cool, and the students were lulled into mild narcosis by the smoke, like bees before the smoker.
The class was definitely subdued that day, and most focused on the moment, counting huckleberries or strawberries. This was a fine alternative to lecturing as my throat was a bit raspy. I was a bit worried that someone would get smoke sickness, but the class persisted, lost in this smoky meadow for the better part of the day.
I will always cherish the wry comment one of them made as we were leaving,
“I have never enjoyed a poor fen so much”.