17 July 2015

Farewell Tour

Recession of the Nisqually Glacier at Mount Rainier
When I came home to Washington state this summer, I said goodbye.

Early in the spring semester while working at the University of South Dakota, I started making plans for my summer in Washington. I wanted to go back to Olympic National Park and Mount St. Helens. Also, I wanted to visit Mount Rainier for the first time. That mountain had watched over so much of my life, but I had never been up to it.

Accompanied by my family, I was able to keep all my plans, and I had a great time doing it. Still, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was losing old friends and the state where I grew up.

Global warming is tearing apart my home state this summer with drought and heat. Two weeks after I visited Olympic National Park, one of the wettest places in the world, a massive fire started there. Days before I visited Mount St. Helens, the state Department of Ecology declared that Washington's snowpack was at zero percent of normal levels. Sure enough, the only snow I saw on that trip was at the top of St. Helens and in the volcano's shaded crater. Then, days before I went to Mount Rainier, a news story ran about the mountain's disappearing Nisqually Glacier. I was sure to take pictures of the glacier and its recession on my trip because I wasn't sure how many more chances I'll get to see it.

I was glad about my choice to visit these icons of Washington this summer. Global warming is changing them, and I needed something of the way they were to keep as a last memory. That's what we must do when we say goodbye.

Rain, moderate temperatures, snow: The band has broken up in Washington, and in the words of singer Michelle Branch, "Goodbye to you. Goodbye to everything that I knew. You were the one I loved, the one thing I tried to hold onto."

01 July 2015

The Party's Over

Global warming has turned out the lights on a family tradition, another sign the place I love more than any other has changed drastically.

For as long as I can remember, my family has hosted an Independence Day party, and for just as long, the party has ended with a fireworks display. Each year, the children in the family bring their fireworks and light them off after dark, a practice I once lived for and which I now supervise. We always save the biggest firework for last so that the family can howl at it in memory of my dog, a rare animal who loved the colorful explosions.

This year, the family will get together as usual, but we won't have any fireworks. With the entire state of Washington in drought and a record heat wave strangling the area for more than two weeks, we made the sad decision to eliminate fireworks from our party.

Losing the fireworks themselves isn't what makes me saddest--it's what the loss symbolizes: the break in a shared family experience and a major shift in Washington's climate. The lack of snowpack, which triggered the drought and which I blogged about last month, and the record temperatures relate to a Pacific Ocean that is two degrees warmer than normal, and the result is an early-July Washington I don't recognize. Everything is brown and withered--a sight more typical of August than this time of year.

When everyone leaves our party on Saturday without a climactic fireworks display, I won't recognize that either. The event brought people together just before they went their separate ways for the nearly six months until the holidays. Now, a simple goodbye will have to suffice.

Above all, to me, the canceled fireworks suggest that until we address global warming, we'll lose more than we celebrate.