Last Saturday I participated in my 19th Walk to End Alzheimer’s in San Francisco, in honor and memory of my mom, Polly. I wrote about her on this blog a few months ago, as part of the content I provided for the Alzheimer’s Association Walk newsletter.
When the date for this year’s event was set for November 10th, my immediate concern was the possibility of rain. That occurred in 2013, the only time in my years with the Walk, which was pretty miserable – and it was only September! Besides fundraising, the goal is to get lots of folks out and be very visible in order to raise awareness, so good weather is key.
However it wasn’t weather that affected this year’s Walk, but the massive Camp Fire, which started two days prior to it, burning 200 miles to our northeast in Butte County. Offshore winds have been pushing particulate-heavy smoke directly over the Bay Area for nearly a week now; as I write this the official air quality index is still ‘Unhealthy’ to ‘Very Unhealthy’, depending on one’s location.
So it’s somehow fitting that a piece reporting on my annual Walk experience should appear on a blog that’s largely concerned with the plight of our ailing planet.
Factually incorrect tweets from D.C. aside, the deadly fires (and, in some cases, subsequent mudslides) experienced by California in the last year, beginning with those in Northern California Wine Country in October 2017, are unprecedented and traceable to climate change and global warming.
In brief, the long-term effects of the drought that began in 2011 and was declared to have ended in April of 2017, plus hotter summers and delayed onset of winter rains overall, created a tinderbox effect that has amplified traditional seasonal cycles here.
Yes, there were some human decisions made along the way that haven’t helped the situation, creating factors that have been exacerbated by climate issues. The situation is complex, and conducting a realistic re-examination on multiple levels is of critical importance. I suggest checking out this preview of an upcoming NOVA program on the new ‘megafires’, now being researched and reported by Miles O’Brien, the terrific PBS NewsHour Science Correspondent.
Walking the Talk
This was my first year also volunteering for Walk preparation with the Alzheimer’s Association. I worked an August team kick-off breakfast and followed-up with potential team captains; wrote newsletter and social media content; and signed on to help set up and break down the Walk rally site. The day beforehand over thirty-five volunteers spent four and a half hours in a hazy/smoky asphalt parking lot placing tables and chairs, hanging banners, distributing supplies to the appropriate tent, etc.
I was up at 4:45am the next morning to head back and finish set-up from 6-9am, ahead of the 10am Walk time. I’m loathe to admit that I carried with me an N95 mask that day (the right designation to stop particulates) but didn’t put it on because of the need to communicate with other people, the discomfort of wearing it…and because I had super cool, theme-appropriate mauve lipstick (the official color of Alzheimer’s awareness being purple).
The powers that be made a game day decision to cut the Walk from its usual 3 miles to the 1-mile route that’s available each year for folks unable to complete the longer distance. That was sensible and the right call for our health, so after the traditional rallying calls from the stage and presentation of promise flowers we made our way around the SF Giants’ ballpark and back.
As we walked I took time to reflect on my 39 (and counting) loyal, generous donors – their personal stories of why they support the cause, shared memories of my mom, how grateful I am that they continue to stand with me against Alzheimer’s. I’m so gratified that, despite the conditions, over 3,700 people walked in San Francisco and raised just under $1 million so far, to deliver an important message: “Together we will end Alzheimer’s!”
And we will.
After helping with a quick site break down – there was no lingering, due to that whole ‘I prefer to breathe without pain’ phenomenon – I took three ibuprofen, drove home, drank a glass of wine (OK, two glasses…) and spent much of the afternoon and evening on the couch, reading and dozing.
I’ve tried to remain behind closed doors and windows as much as possible this week; updates suggest we’ll have atmosphere-cleansing onshore winds by Saturday. That’s Day 10, in case you lost track. (Update on 11/15: The weaker-than-expected onshore wind pattern is merely pushing against the smoke, creating stasis rather than clearing. Now they’re hoping for the beginning of a break on Sunday…but I’ll believe it when I see it.)
Of course this pales in comparison to what people continue to experience in Butte County and the Los Angeles area. My heartfelt empathy is with those who lost their lives and homes, as well as the brave women and men of CAL FIRE who are fighting such increasingly virulent fires.
Will humankind rise to the challenge of dealing with their causes and effects?
My amazing donors are the reason I’ve been a successful Walk participant all these years. It’s not too late to join their ranks, should you feel the urge. My personal fundraising page is here. As the inflatable arch that greets us upon return says….THANK YOU!