Having spent a number of years in the Boston area, I’m familiar with gray skies. Sometimes the sun disappears for days or weeks, leaving rain, snow, fog, or otherwise somber scenes to take its place. It wasn’t the cold that eventually drove me back to my home in Southern California – it was the gloom.
California is not without its flaws, but insufficient levels of vitamin D isn’t one of them. Here the sun seems content to dole out its rays in unfair doses while other parts of the world savor a few clear hours during large chunks of the year. We in SoCal take the sunlight for granted, it’s true, and only when we are deprived of its warmth do we show sufficient appreciation.
The last time I saw the unobscured sun, though, was two weeks ago. And no, I didn’t take a flight back to Boston. Wildfires are ravaging parts of California, Washington, and Oregon in ways that startle even lifelong residents. Fire season is nothing new, but it seems to get worse every year. Eight of the 10 biggest fires in California history have burned in the past decade, including this month’s August Complex – our largest on record. As a result, air quality is unhealthy across much of the state, with falling ash blanketing homes, lawns, and cars.
I’m not watching doomsday from behind the wheel of the Lincoln Aviator Black Label, but it’s an ominous scene nonetheless. Unable to trace the outline of clouds through the Aviator’s panoramic sunroof (an ironic name at the moment), the sky appears uniformly dark, as if God spilled a paint bucket.
The sleek Burgundy SUV prowls Orange County with its chrome accents and LED light signatures muted in the haze. A cream-colored leather interior looks, somehow, more sumptuous in the pale light, as if it is acting as a sinless setting to contrast the burning beyond. The 30-way adjustable massaging front seats and a 28-speaker Revel Audio system invite me to a merrier state of mind. The cockpit’s typical clutter of buttons and distracting visuals are subdued, with hidden controls on the steering wheel, piano key gear selectors, and a digital instrument cluster that can suppress all but the most necessary information.
My dulled sense of hearing and feeling via the SUV’s insulated and air-suspended cabin only emphasizes the queer world outside. A quiet yet potent twin-turbo V6 engine ushers the three-row SUV along breathlessly, while adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist correct the errors of my wandering mind inconspicuously.
A small red circle on the horizon is the only clue as to the dwindling day. At least night will cloak the fire for those of us far enough from its blaze. I can only hope the first responders and victims have as serene a refuge as the Lincoln Aviator when their fighting and fleeing are over – and may it be soon.