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Native Americans knew how to use smoke to force rodents to flee their desert burrows; once they emerged the Indians killed and ate them.  We’re feeling a bit that way – like the rodents, that is, not Native Americans.

fire in the valley2

Italy is a burning country.  Visit Tuscany in late October or November and you will find a shroud of smoke from agricultural fires over the landscape.  Coming from a part of New England where one needed a permit from the Fire Marshall to do any burning on one’s property, it was a shock to us to see how many fires there are, almost every day, dotting the hills and mountains around us.  After a year, though, we understood.  It is such a verdant, lush country, there is simply no way to compost or keep up with the excess growth that needs to be removed. (According to the European Commission, agriculture is responsible for 9% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions (though to be fair, agriculture also serves as a G.G. sink).  A large percentage of those emissions come from methane and manure – turns out all those cow-fart jokes were based on fact after all)

Burning becomes delicate when you live amongst others.  It’s best if you or your neighbors burn on a day that is not dry and windy.  A day without a thermal inversion is good – then the smoke goes up instead of around and around.  And most of all, it’s really nice if you burn so your smoke doesn’t go right into your neighbors’ windows.

sandro's evening fire

Our neighbor Sandro has recently cut his grass, using, as everyone else does, a weed whacker rather than a mower.  It’s back-breaking, dirty, unpleasant work, and I’m happy to say Sandro does it once or twice a year, whether he needs to or not.  Oh meow! Of course the grass and weeds were up to his waist, which made his job even nastier.  Then, because there were so many whackings (can’t really call them ‘clippings’ in this case), he had to rake them into piles, and then he burned them.  Right under our terrace.  Ordinarily this wouldn’t bother us one whit, but that day we had an inversion, and the slight air movement we did have brought the smoke from his fire right into our house, never mind our yard where we had been hoping to work ourselves.  It started at 9:30 a.m. and he lit his last fire at 8:30 p.m.

There was a strange principle of physics at work that day: we were able to receive most of the smoke from two separate fires, one on either side of our terrace.  How this happens is not quite clear to me.  I think there’s probably a formula, something like:  NI = (e) SD + (w) SD +T / square root H, where ‘e’ is east, ‘w’ is west, SD is smoke diffusion, T is temperature, H is humidity and NI is neighbor irritability.  Risking the Bad Neighbor Award the Captain took our longest hose and put out one of the fires. Our eyes were still watering, and our throats were scratchy the next day.

I’m hoping to be able to get out in our own garden tomorrow.  I’ve got a big brush pile that needs burning.

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