In October of that year, there yet persisted a thick brown scud of smoke over the great San Joaquin Valley, a constant reminder that the fires ignited by bolts of lightning nearly two months earlier continued to gnaw through the California countryside and nibble at the containment perimeters which had been agonizingly shoveled, bulldozed, and berm-formed by firefighters. Temporary flight restrictions blazed out a geography that made the West appear stricken as if by the firestorms of war.
There came that Saturday morning the call for us to depart for the shores of the Pacific where, at least until an approaching trough heaved the thick smoke of destruction eastward, our day was set aside to walk through the sands of Oceano (L52), to contemplate the coming of a completely different firestorm.
After landing, we covered up the canopy of the RV-8 and spent just a few moments in the pilots lounge before heading toward the beach on foot.
Just beyond the airport was a campground that was filled to capacity. It was clear that Americans were still very much embracing the mindset of escape, of adventure, even as the last bastion of summer was now being swept away by the cool autumn winds from the west.
It was late morning. The beaches of Oceano were fairly populated by the people visiting that day, but walking a couple of miles southward, we soon realized just how devoid of humanity the place had become only recently. The crushing onslaught of a pandemic had made what was once a bustling, throng-filled stretch of beachfront a deserted sea of sand. A dark shadow cast down from a drifting contrail pierced the population below.
Cutting inland along the deserted beach, we discovered a series of dunes where we relaxed in the sun for a time. We watched as a powerful sign from above pushed steadily eastward, carrying with it the smoke of California’s firestorms.