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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Smoky Season

Well, it's a bit late this year, but it's finally here--smoky season. We really only have two seasons in Borneo--wet, and dry. Dry season isn't really "dry," it's just less wet than rainy season. So whenever there's a small window of a few days when it hasn't rained, everyone goes nuts burning the newly cleared land for their "ladangs" (rice fields.)

Did you ever find it interesting how large flocks of birds all seem to know at exactly the same time that today is the day to fly south, or north, or whatever? Well, it's sort of like that here...with the people. It strikes me as amusing and a bit odd. There's no fires at all, day after day, then suddenly in the span of a few hours, seemingly the entire jungle is on fire. And it's not like one guy sees the other guys smoke and says, "Hey, that's a good idea. I think I'll light up my field too!" No, some of these ladangs are a very long walk from the a full day sometimes. So it seems more like just a peculiar, God-given jungle instinct, to know exactly the day and time to throw down the torches.

As a missionary pilot it looks like this: you're flying along over beautiful jungle, mid-morning. The skies are clear, the visibility is great No smoke. You stop for fuel and passengers in Malinau at 11:00. Then you head 150 miles south, deep into the Apokayan region of mountainous, interior Borneo. You drop off some passengers, pick up some new ones, and head back towards Malinau. As you leave the interior village, you suddenly notice little plumes of smokes curling up out of the jungle from all around the village area. "Uh oh," you think. Today must be the burn day. And you know that a hundred and fifty miles to the north, probably within a few minutes of the time these little plumes of smoke began to rise, there are hundreds and hundreds of much larger clouds of smoke bellowing out of the jungle.

And sure enough, by the time you get back to the Malinau area, there's a huge, thick cloud of smoke (see the picture below.) From a distance, it just looks like a vast, ugly area of smog, or very thick haze. But as you fly into it, the "sweet" aroma of burning leaves and vegetation reminds you that this is not your average haze. Visibility rapidly drops, and you occasionally become aware of the fact that you're holding your breath for long periods of time, only to breath deeply at the end, accomplishing nothing really. But perhaps this is just training for next years' "three cigarette smoking race." (See the post below to find out about that.) Think of the bragging rights I'd have if I was the first MAF pilot to win that one! That was a joke people.

Anyway, I took the picture below, just prior to entering the area of thick smoke. After being "absorbed" by the smoke, it wouldn't have done any good to take a picture. You wouldn't have seen anything. And besides, it would be silly to distract from the concentration of flying at that point, to snap a picture. But you can use your imagination, or go out and by a scratch-and-sniff forest fire sticker if you want to involve your other senses. :)

1 comment:

Steve and Laura said...

So, you also find yourself holding your breath when you fly through the smoke. Too funny.