In 1980, I opted to take flying lessons at the Long Beach, California airport. Because we owned several planes, I felt a need to learn in the event of an emergency.
Back then, the air quality in the LA basin was bad as a result of emissions, they said, due to carbon dioxide. The level of heavy air would sit around 2,000 feet, hanging close to the mountain range around that valley.
During my approximately eight months of flying lessons, the airport was in a most unique setting in that the ocean breeze kept the harbor clear of ozone for about a ten-mile radius. Not so, once you took off to the sky, started climbing to higher altitude, and headed East. The brown haze sat like a blanket over the city, but once beyond the mountains, it cleared.
By 1982 and beyond, and with what the scientists described as a drought, the ozone layer extended further out past Palm Springs to the Arizona border. During those years, I did extensive flying in our private plane for business, and the brown haze became such an issue that many take offs and landings required an instrument approach.
By 1990, flying commercial across the US to Connecticut, that brown layer covered the entire country at a level of about 3,000 feet. Standing on the ground looking up to the sky, it appeared blue. But take a flight anywhere in the country, and at 5,000 feet, you have trouble seeing the ground!
In 1995, we purchased an RV and headed on a beautiful trip to Alaska. While in Valdez, we were recommended to take the drive to see the glaciers. This is where the reality of climate change hit. As we drove that highway, there were signs showing where the glacier had been at various years. 1950. 1955. 1960. And on and on, until finally appeared this beautiful mountain of blue glacier, completely fenced off, with signs reading, “Keep out.” Why?
It was more than obvious why. When we made every attempt to disclose this fact to anyone, it appeared unimportant. Unless you had experienced it yourself, I guess it was just a story.
Climate change is real. Profits prevent the end of pollution. During the golden years of my life, I can only hope for a change but am skeptical that large manufacturers will give up their wealth.
—Kathie Carmer, Florence
A Eulogy for Thetford Lodge
The afternoon light is harsh and stark. There are no leaves on the trees, and any remaining Doug-fir boughs that usually soften the winter sun are scorched red. The rugged contours of the river are newly visible along the roadside.
Three months on, there are piles of rubble and burnt-out cars left behind in the rush from the flames, but every so often a lone house appears unscathed. As to what stands or smolders, the answers are in the topography: the curves of the land, ushering or buffering the wind as flames roared through the canyon.
Unlike those who lost their homes and livelihoods or, tragically, even loved ones up here, we were casual users.
Thetford Lodge, built in 1948 and designed by architect Pietro Belluschi for former governor Charles A. Sprague, was gifted to Willamette University for student retreats, and by lottery to staff and faculty for personal use. For our family, this timeworn cabin on the Little North Fork of the Santiam River was a nearby paradise where the world stood still.
We shared meals and belly laughs, played ping-pong at an old Formica-topped table, turned rocks in search of stoneflies, and in early summer, dipped our toes in the icy river. We scrambled up to the secret canyon waterfall, following cryptic directions left by a fellow visitor.
We know all is lost. Ours is a pilgrimage to see what remains.
The chimney orients us as we try to make sense of the warren of squares that make up the concrete foundation. I see the skeleton of a midcentury chandelier that hung over the dining table and the double S (for Sprague) fireplace andirons. Our son points to mismatched china that filled the cupboards, metal lampshades, and a jumble of bedsprings.
At the adjacent day-use area, it takes me a minute to realize the metal armature with puddles of melted plastic were once picnic tables. My mind jumps to the day our sky turned coral, and the harrowing descriptions relayed by survivors of that terrible night. More than a few people took refuge in this very river, fending off sparks and embers, horrified and awestruck both.
I close my eyes to conjure the soundtrack of Thetford: plastic blinds tapping together in the breeze, the white noise of Canyon Creek burbling into the Little North Fork, a warped LP lisping on the turntable.
It wasn’t ours, but our memories will forever belong to it.
—Rachel Bucci, Salem
The Sound of Celilo Falls
On March 10, 1957, the Dalles Dam’s reservoir flooded the great Celilo Falls into silence. A warming slack water lake now is all that is left of the eight miles of cold water rapids and rock islands, where tired salmon would rest and brave fishermen would dip nets to catch them. Celilo Falls filled the surrounding valley with echoes of the sound of water on rocks. The sound of Celilo Falls was a clarion call for the wild salmon, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey to return to the river from their adult habitat in the sea.
Only the strongest and most genetically fit fish could ascend Celilo Falls to reach their spawning grounds. The drowning of the falls’ sounds has left a deafening silence in the Columbia River, equating to a half century of violence, relocation, poverty, starvation, and despair. Before the construction of the dam, the Celilo Wyam people were self-sufficient since time immemorial. There were always plenty of salmon returning to the cold raging rapid waters of the Columbia River.
It was predicted that it would only take half of a century after the construction of the Dalles Dam for the wild salmon to be gone. And so far this prediction has come true. Wild salmon and Pacific lamprey are cold water fish, and ocean and in-river water temperatures must stay below 68 degrees Fahrenheit for these cold water fish to survive. The Columbia and Willamette Rivers no longer meet EPA benchmarks as suitable cold water habitats able to support wild salmon.
The Bonneville Power Administration controls the dam, and the quantity and quality of water it releases into the Columbia River in 2021 will determine whether baby salmon smolt are able to reach their adult habitat in the sea in a timely manner and whether adult salmon returning from sea to spawn must be able to access their natal streams.
Restoring Celilo Falls and removing the four lower dams on the Snake River will help put cold flowing water back into the Columbia River, which is now a series of warming slack water lakes created by thirteen dams. Removing the dams on the lower Snake River will open up over one hundred forty miles of cold flowing aquatic habitat and gravel spawning beds. One hundred and twenty other species rely on wild salmon returning to the Pacific Northwest bioregion for their survival. If the Pacific Ocean and Columbia River water temperatures exceed 68 degrees this summer, there will be no more salmon or pacific lamprey.
In the last five years, NOAA reported the hottest air and water temperatures ever recorded on Earth. Roughly eighty percent of our breathable atmosphere comes from our living oceans—not dead oceans. If our oceans turn acidic and waterways fill with toxic algae, all life on earth that relies on a breathable atmosphere and drinkable water to survive will be threatened.
—Ninette Jones, Portland
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Reduce, reuse, recycle. This is my father’s motto, told to me hundreds of times over the years. When I would throw a can in the garbage instead of the recycling, he would chastise me and repeat the phrase. Then came the unwelcome thought, “Does one tin really matter? Would it make a difference in this vast world full of pollution?” This would pass through my head, justifying my action of choosing not to walk the extra thirty feet to recycle the can. Now I can say with certainty that, yes, it does matter. If everyone thought that way, then the pollution on the earth would increase so much more.
After seeing my city’s normally blue sky become dense clouds of smoke from the forest fires, I started to get anxious. Climate change had always been discussed, but it lived in the back of my mind because I had personally never seen the effects. Then an ice storm hit, causing major power outages. But what I think finally brought me to action was the scorching heatwave. The hot weather drove my family to the coast, seeking some sort of reprieve from the sweltering air. It was then that I realized I had to do more than just recycle. I had to give back to the world, because I knew humans were destroying our way of life. I wanted to do something, no matter how small, and give back to this earth. Because it does make a difference.
Our earth is full to the brim with alluring wonders that I only hope to see someday. I want to preserve those wonders and let generations after me explore them as well. It saddens me when I think of the amount of plastic and pollution that plagues the earth. So I made the decision to do everything in my power to reduce the amount of plastic waste I make and choose the eco-friendly option. I reuse things that would otherwise be thrown away, like an art project I recently made, using all my empty cans, and hung up in my room. I now always put in the extra effort to recycle, because my father’s voice still echoes in my head, reminding me to do the right thing.
—Alex Blair, Portland
Right on Time
Ten acres. My world.
The snowdrops are a signal. I am five years old. Six. Seven. Suited up with shoes and coat, hood pulled tight some days, hair flowing free on others to whip in the wind. No more than sixty paces from my back door, I’ve traveled to the patch of dark soil at the northwest corner of our big red barn. My parents have sent me out to play. Here, just underneath the still bare twigs of the brambly fuchsia bush, the tiniest slivers of green poke through the surface of the soil as winter relaxes its grip on earth. This is all I know. That each year, emerald swords will split the land, and little bells of white will soon dangle perfectly in the cold, damp air. Green nubs crown each blossom. Leftover drops of rainwater cling to petals and I shake them loose. Later, sometime after Mother’s Day when the fuchsia is blooming, I find pink and purple buds. I feel a twinge of guilt as my fingers press the petals, knowing I’m forcing an opening before its time. But the satisfaction of that Pop!—the sound and feel of lipstick tones pinched between my tiny fingers—I can’t resist. By then, the snowdrops are long gone. Fallen to the soil, pounded by rain, disintegrated by springtime sunshine. Returned to the earth. My child’s heart trusts these plants will overcome my meddling. The seasons will cycle again. I’ll find the snowdrops next year, right on time.
Fifty thousand miles. A trip around the world.
A crack like a clap of thunder. I am twenty-eight years old, carrying memories of backyard snowdrops as I backpack the globe for a year. I stand under South American beech trees, listening as a calving glacier releases ice to the chilly waters of Lago Argentino. I peer through dark sunglasses, watching for a shimmer. I keep my hands warm in deep pockets. Minutes pass. Then the frozen wall fractures again and another 18,000-year-old mammoth shard pierces the lake, throwing splashes into the air, catching sunlight on crystals. This is water in motion. Not raindrops. Not dewdrops. Time passing before my eyes at a fierce glacial pace. Perito Moreno is among the earth’s last growing ice forms. Nearly every other glacier on our planet is now in retreat, melting into history.
Two-thousand-two-hundred-and-twenty miles. The distance between my home and the arctic.
Autumn sunshine. Shorter days. My daughters and I have a bag of bulbs to plant, but I’m second-guessing soil temps. I am thirty-six years old. Seven years older than the grown-ups who watched me from the windows when I was only five. They, too, are older now, entering their sixties. We are all old enough to see the world change. Old enough to sense the shifting times, somewhere between a single season and an ice age. I wonder if my parents still watch me. Wandering farther from the patch of ground where I started. Asking questions. Growing more concerned at ways we Pop! our resources—forcing what we want, perhaps not knowing what we need. I ask myself what I am willing to change. Where I am willing to back down, walk away. Gardeners say in certain places snowdrops are blooming earlier. Our weather patterns are shifting in the skies. Polar ice caps continue to thaw. Water slips and drips into the seas and flows away, and the frozen peaks are not returning after Earth’s next trip around the sun. They say this is just the tip of an iceberg. I don’t know exactly what my daughters will watch pierce the skin of the earth as they grow older. Five. Six. Seven. Will they find comforting signs of spring when they are someday as old as me, and I am older still? Or will they ask me about what hopeful winters used to be? I don’t know what’s coming beyond New Year’s or next Mother’s Day or next time the rainclouds part. Today, in our front yard, I ask my girls to pass the bag of bulbs and hand me the trowel. I dig a hole. I drop a paper-skinned narcissus in the ground, bury it, and brush the dirt from my hands.
—Bethany Rydmark, Portland
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