Smoke from California fires shrouds the Centennial Mountains in Island Park, over 700 air miles away.

For over an hour, the large campfire covered me in smoke, chasing me no matter where I moved as I tended the flames. Finally, as the fire burned to glowing embers, the smoke was gone. I set my grill above the coals and when the metal was hot, tossed on the hamburgers that would be our dinner. The meat sizzled and fat dripped onto the orange glowing embers, creating puffs of smoke, but nothing like when the fire was fresh and consuming the logs.

We love camp fires, but anyone who has ever stood near one recognizes that at times the smoke is thick and choking. During the past week, the huge campfire called California, has been putting smoke into our air—enough to cover parts of ten western states as far east as west Texas. In places, the smoke has been as thick as morning fog rising over a river, obscuring scenic views and creating a potential health risk for those with compromised cardiovascular or respiratory systems and the very young and elderly.

Wildfires have been a part of nature since at least the Ice Age and smoke, one result of fire, is as natural as plants, animals and air.  Smoke is the result of the incomplete burning of the fuel source. According to the US Forest Service, “smoke is made up of small particles, gases and water vapor. Water vapor makes up the majority of smoke. The remainder includes carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, irritant volatile organic compounds, air toxics and very small particles.”

Visible particles are smoke and invisible particles are referred to as gas or fumes. Think of toasting a piece of bread. The aromas as the bread toasts are fumes but when the toast burns it produces smoke.

Smoke has different qualities depending on the type of fuel that burns. Virtually everything contains water but green vegetation is loaded with it and even dry vegetation has a substantial amount. In a wildfire, burning of hydrogen rich fuel like this results in white, cloud-like smoke. If the smoke takes on other colors such as yellow or red, it means other things are burning.

The burning of manmade materials can produce smoke that is far more toxic than that of a wildfire. Dozens of hazardous compounds can be released from plastics, paints, treated wood, electronics and more.

A hot fire produces less smoke as more of the fuel is consumed. In the rare occasion that I have used an acetylene torch, I found that as I ignited the torch with a high acetylene to oxygen ratio, a black smoke would ensue. As I turned up the oxygen the heat would increase and the smoke would disappear. I found the same to be true with a campfire. If I used my electric air mattress inflator to blow on the coals, I could increase the heat of the fire and reduce the smoke.

The nature of the smoke will change with the temperature of the fire. For instance, if the combustible item contains sulfur, a hotter fire will produce sulfur dioxide. The incomplete combustion of a cooler fire will form hydrogen sulfide.

We were in Grand Teton National Park a few years ago when smoke from fires to the north would completely obscure the Grand Teton just a few miles away. We heard one tourist lament, “I came all the way from London to see these mountains and there is so much smoke I can’t!”

Despite its impact on our lives, we should be grateful, that at least for now, it is the smoke and not the fire we have to deal with.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho