The sun sets into the smoke. The moon rises above it.
Each day ends this way, out West, where the smoke of distant wildfires is a constant haze, a fog of ash from forests eaten alive.
The West is afire; the South aflood where Harvey dumped epic rain on land ill-suited to absorb it.
“I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain,” James Taylor is singing on my stereo as the sun winks into a red veil of smoke. A faded half-moon ascends above the gray shroud that settles into the valley every evening.
It is Aug. 31 in Montana, where the news on the radio is all flood and fire. I can get Internet news, too, thanks to satellites, but I’m on vacation, and I have things to do. I can’t just sit at a computer like I’m at work.
The TV weather people say Sept. 1 marks the end of meteorological summer, which you’d think means a damn meteor’s going to hit next, the way things are going, but what they mean is it’s going to get cooler. Eventually. One day.
Those not wedded to the autumnal equinox typically think of Labor Day as summer’s end. See it that way, and summer’s end 2017 is just one disaster after another.
So those who prophesized the solar eclipse was a bad omen were right on target. Plug that psychic hotline into your smartphone.
The end of summer’s always a bummer. When we were kids, this was when we went back to school. Now Labor Day’s the last day off until Thanksgiving, if we don’t get federal holidays.
It is the first mark of the year’s impending end, when all that grows is darkness until the winter solstice, the longest night.
“I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end,” James Taylor sings, later adding: “Lord knows when a cold wind blows, it’ll turn your head around.”
A cold wind can be hard to conjure in the summer, West or South.
But the soaked and shivering storm refugees down South need warm clothes and blankets, and out West wildfires make their own weather, causing odd shifts in air currents, so that abruptly through the suspended ash a cold wind blows, its origin indecipherable.
“Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground,” Taylor sings, a line long interpreted to mean he had a girlfriend who died in a plane crash.
Look it up and you’ll see “Flying Machine” was a band name, and it was Taylor who crashed, depressed and doing heroin before learning mutual friends had withheld the news a woman he knew had committed suicide. They feared he would bottom out, had he not already.
By the time “Fire and Rain” became a hit off the 1970 album “Sweet Baby James,” Taylor had rebounded, and was walking on a country road to a long career. “Fire and Rain” is more about recovery than loss.
We wish we could redistribute the clouds that shadow us, to devote a portion of Harvey’s rain to western wildfires, and send the western drought to suck the swamp out of Texas.
If wishes were fishes, we could eat those floating in polluted floodwaters or drowned in ash-choked mountain streams.
When I first heard “Fire and Rain,” I was a kid growing up in Seale, Ala., where an annual tradition is the Old Russell County Courthouse Labor Day Fair. I may get home in time to go, this year.
Going home is not always a good idea, in a pensive mood. Home is where you’re reminded how hopelessly naïve you were, when you were a child.
Hundreds of children have no home now, and have been denied the naivete we took for granted, when we were kids, and believed home would always be there, constant and unchanging.
So another meteorological summer plunges into the expanding night, and the floodwaters recede, and the wildfires, too, will die.
And things will get better. Eventually. One day.