In honor of COP26, we wanted to share just how much climate change is already affecting our own lives here in Oregon and beyond. Thank you to everyone who submitted their story--they're all included below! And make sure to check our Facebook and Instagram pages to see if your story is featured.
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Thank you to all who shared their stories!
Winning Story: Heatwave on the Farm
I have lived my whole life on a farm outside of McMinnville. It’s home to a forest and garden and orchard, goats and chickens, and people. And if you look out the windows in my house, there are hay fields. An old farmer, Steve Cone, and his son cut and rake and bale and buck that hay into bales to sell so that they can continue to afford to feed their wives and care for their family home. And as a little kid, before their tractors showed up on the driveway, I remember running through grasses that reached past my head, growing into the sky. Those fields were magical places in early June. The grasses were tall, green, and alive.
A few years passed and I turned 15. The summer came and went, and as it left, the smoke and fires rolled in, threatening the state that I call home. I feared for my house, my backyard forest, the food in our garden, my sweet baby goats, my life. While the flames didn’t reach me, they sure reached others, killing people and destroying more than 5,000 homes and 400,000 Oregon acres. They stung my eyes with smoky air and tears, and scarred my mind with yellow skies. And when I thought about those lost homes- I realized, it could have been me.
7 months passed and the thermometer read 113 degrees in the shade. The temperature rose and rose and didn’t seem to fall below 95 degrees. The trees that I loved, in that lively forest, burned in the heat, their leaves and needles scorched orange. The heat baked the fields of beautiful hay, turning them brown, before each stalk could finish growing. Then they stood, up to my knees, withered and shrunken from the heat and drought. My neighbors, the farmers, worked in the heat, harvesting the meager proportion of grass, bundling and preparing it to sell. They got much less hay this year, probably less than any year they’ve been alive. “The heat,” they said, “We’re just dealing with Mother Nature.” I really wish that was all.
- Ukiah Halloran-Steiner from Yamhill County, OR
When I think of climate change, I think of trees snapping in the night, thudding to the ground during the ice storm. I think of Mt. Hood looming hazily above the blue hills, growing barer and barer each summer since childhood, now snowless, the color of steel. I think of salmon floating on their sides, cooked by warm, dying water. And I think of the fires--fires at the edge of the city, fires in the Cascades, in the Gorge, in the Coast Range. All of my beloved hiking spots. Communities. Homes. Lives. Our entire state, on fire. Red, unbreathable skies, thick with smoke.
I’ve seen a lot of change over my lifetime. When I was a kid growing up in the Portland area, the rivers didn’t run quite so low, and there was never any wildfire smoke keeping me inside. I’m in my late twenties now. Not so young, anymore, but not old enough for things to have changed this much. This is the climate crisis at work. Oregon is in many ways unrecognizable. I grew up here, and yet I live in a different place now than I did when I was seven, or twelve, or sixteen. And the next generation--gen Z, the youth--they’re inheriting an Oregon that will be even more different, even more drought-ridden, and burnt, and snowless. Unless we take action in time.
New Birds in Town
Being an avid gardener and bird watcher I noticed about 7 or 8 years ago that here on the central OR coast, that we now had ring-necked doves in abundance which are a species located in California and points south. They are now year-round residents. Towhees arrive earlier and stay later.
After a year when measurable rain was experienced once from April until September in a location that used to have between 80-100" of rain per year, it is difficult to imagine that coastal OR is now becoming what northern CA used to be.
Four Climate Stories
- Story 1: I grew up in a temperate rain forest on the Oregon coast hearing stories about how, in World War II, the Japanese dropped bombs trying to start devastating forest fires, but they fizzled out in the damp and mud. Fast forward 25 years later, and we now have a region so dry, with snowpack so low, and annual precipitation so precipitously declined, that we have had back-to-back years with those devastating fires that were thought laughably impossible during my school years.
- Story 2: Climate crisis to me is a newfound dread and heightened alertness on autumn days where a warm, dry breeze blows. It's checking the haze on the horizon to determine whether it is smoke or fog, sniffing the air wondering whether that's a neighbor's unnecessarily starting the woodstove on a mild day, or the first hint of evacuation orders to come. It's waking up every morning to check the weather, air quality, and how far the fires traveled, and feeling a palpable relief and unclenching of a tightness in my chest on the first, multi-day, heavy rain.
- Story 3: Growing up, our cool summers came with morning fog that the Redwoods require to "drink" from the canopy. Our temperate climate and reliable moisture meant that we could grow cool season crops year-round, but that vegetable gardens couldn't grow a tomato despite anyone's skill as a gardener, as they would succumb to the cool dampness and never get the heat needed to ripen. Twenty years later, my mother has an entire row of tomatoes in her garden, as do her friends, and volunteer tomato plants spring from the compost pile.
- Story 4: My family had an organic vegetable garden growing up, and I remember playing in our damp green lawn, a mixture of grass, daisies, and clover, in rainboots and shorts while she tended it on long summer days. Photos show me with green grass year-round, and we did not have an irrigation system for the garden. Today, just a couple decades later, the lawn is yellow in the summer and my mother had a drip irrigation system installed in the vegetable garden because she can no longer rely on heavy dew or weekly showers.
When the Columbia Froze
I grew big on the tidelands of the lower Columbia River. I watched 20 winters and summers pass, remember when the Columbia froze and heard ships clanking and banging up to Portland through the ice chunks. I sprayed DDT on cows at milking time. Sprayed brush with 24d. When I thought I was flunking out of pre-med I ran away to sea and finally ended up for 50 years in Hawaii. When I returned, there are now fewer birds, almost a complete lack of bugs (I remember riding my motorcycle and turning black from gnats.} No more. Things are green--maybe preternaturally green now. Hope fades. I wait for the Ross Ice Shelf to fall. Greenland melts. How bad will it get? Two-hundred plus feet of water coming without fail. Forty percent of US citizens in a state of insanity. I do not use DDT or 24d any more. Roundup has given me lymphoma. Thanks a lot, eh?
- Brian Hannula from Astoria, OR
Mostly I notice that the sky has less birds in it. Instead of the huge flocks I remember from childhood, there are, now and then, small groups of birds flying by… or just one bird. Or none. In Australia too, where my daughter now lives, huge flocks of parrots used to fly by. Now not so much. Less insects too. At least here, in Eugene, Oregon, where I live. Which, sadly, I appreciate. Used to be, come summer, windows and doors had to be screened. Now I can leave them wide open, no problem. Nothing flies in.
Forest fires, both this year and last, have surrounded my city. I have two friends who lost their homes to the fires. One morning I woke in a near midnight darkness. I went outside. The sun was a bright orange ball in a dark grey sky. I thought it looked lovely, sat outside at my cute plastic table, sipping my tea… until I noticed the air filled with ash. Thought of my lungs. Figured I better go in.
I used to live in Northern New York. As a child, I would wake to the magic of bright winter mornings, a world sparkling like it was made out of jewels. Now, they tell me, the winters back there tend to be dark, thick, heavy snow mixed with rain. Even winter thunderstorms. Before Covid-time I used to travel a lot: to India, where I have community, to Australia, where I have family, to Colorado, to New York City etc. Now, it’s been quite some time since I’ve flown. Nonetheless, it wasn’t that long ago, and the patterns of human carved earth remain vivid in my mind.
Sometimes I think we humans are something of a skin disease on this earth. Like a fungus that’s digging deep in. Or a cancer, a part of the earth that became too selfish, that grew huge at the expense of everything else. When too many fleas cover a dog, the dog dies. And when the dog dies, the fleas leap off to find some other warm creature to live on. I’m not so sure there are many new vulnerable earths nearby. Nor, if there were, would I wish ourselves on them.
- Joan Dobbie from Eugene, OR
Crawling the Sahara
We’d made it onto mostly flat, crusty land, and we were not going to stop if the old flatbed would let us go on. The chickens and goats lay catatonic, crowded together, their clucking and baying hours ago stupefied into silent quivering. They lay with the eight of us riding in back, hanging on to piled freight. But past the dunes we could stop our yelling and I could quiet my hysterical laughter, our nerves frayed, our skin scorched, our clothes saturated with fine yellow silt, and, most of all, our bodies plain exhausted. We had not been swallowed by sand. By late afternoon, we’d come forty miles north of Ouagadougou.
The Sahara in northwest Burkina Faso is only part dunes, the rest - hills and hollows of dirt and dry earth, grey sand, and red clay. The flats must have been an ancient lake, so regularly had the surface flooded, leveled, evaporated, and then choked and cracked by the unrelenting sun into a hundred million pieces. Swales and dips had been molded by concentrations of erosion from annual monsoon runoff. Flattened clumps of scrub supported an assortment of mice, vermin, and subterranean crawlies, bugs whose insides were as parched as the landscape, concentrating bile and toxins into deadly poisons in scorpions and fire ants and other creatures tough enough to survive in the desert. The scrub proffered thinly chlorophylled fingers that broke through the ground, some with fruit called mooli, small melons consumed by rodents but astringent and inedible to humans, vines and shriveled vegetation thick with long thorns.
A myth I heard is this. An old woman named Buktu, the last of her village, set out alone in the desert. Her family had gone, her friends had died, and her intention was to do the same. She wandered without food or water and each night when she lay down to sleep, she expected it to be the final time. But each morning the sun shone on her face and she rose to wander another day. On the fifth day, hungry and parched, she saw a mirage. She walked toward the grove of date palms, heavy with fruit. No palms, but she found a tim, or spring, bubbling with fresh water. It was Buktu’s tim, or Timbuktu.
Ten thousand years ago, long before Buktu wandered its dunes, the Sahara was green: lush with oases, fishable lakes, natural vegetation, elephants and ostriches. Nomads flourished. Homo Sapiens developed agriculture and nomadic communities began to settle and cultivate. Then, five thousand years ago the Sahara commenced a natural cycle – quickened and exacerbated by human exploits – of desertification. Soil became sand, desiccation moved outward in every direction. More recently, the region has endured 50 years of acute drought. On average, the desert’s perimeter advances into formerly arable land, ten feet every 24 hours. Giraffe, hippopotamus, birds and almost every species of wildlife that populated the region has disappeared. The land itself is no longer productive so that in certain regions, crops fail and domestic cattle and sheep have declined.
The southern edge of the Sahara Desert runs up against the northern stretches of the Inland Delta. In wet years, the topography of the Delta is sliced-through a thousand times by rivulets and tributaries. They feed the Niger River that begins in Guinea, runs first northeast, bends near Timbuktu, then turns southeast, emptying through Nigeria into the Atlantic Ocean. The Inland Delta’s annual deposit of silt and fresh water, for centuries attracted grazing and cultivation well beyond anything possible today, and between the years 1400 and 1600 – as Europe stepped from Medieval life into the Renaissance – such empires as Ancient Mali flourished in the Sahara leaving population clusters that remain to this day and archaeological sites with more under the ground than now sit above it.
I did not know the hour, but neon streaks of color bled together into a tie-dye dusk. The temperature had dropped maybe ten degrees to the nineties and I almost loved the desert.
- Rachel Hoffman from Portland, OR
Rising Sea Levels
Some of the people most affected by Climate Change are Pacific Islanders. Nations like Kiribati consist of many islands that are only a few meters above sea level. During storm surges the islands are often flooded. This kills any crops and contaminates water supplies making it almost impossible to live there. The last time CO2 levels were this high was 800,000 years ago and sea levels were 15 to 25 meters higher (50–80 feet). Change happened slower back then and some islands were able to avoid being submerged by the rising seas by growing the islands through coral growth. But now the rising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification is killing 90% of the world’s coral. The oceans cover 71% of the planet’s surface, yet they are essentially uninhabited. In 25 years two billion additional people will cause the world’s landmasses to be overcrowded and lacking water and resources. Rising seas, floods, forest fires, extreme weather, and wars, due to climate change will result in over 250 million climate refugees a year. Where will they go and what will they eat? Would it be possible to design seahomes able to survive on the open oceans. Would refugees be able to thrive on the open oceans and begin to replant coral with hardier heat and acid resistant strains?
- Jerry Brule from Eugene, OR
Changes in the Stars
My story may be unique for Oregon climate change. For 33 years I have been involved in the Oregon Star Party; a gathering of more than 600 amateur astronomers who enjoy studying, observing and photographing galaxies and other deep-sky objects in the high desert of Oregon. Sponsored by OMSI, we bring together families and individuals from across the country, all with telescopes and binoculars, and a passion for dark skies and the wonders of deep space. Needless to say, you need a dark sky location, which is why the high desert of central Oregon gives us one of the best sites in the country, far from city lights and sprawling humanity. For the first time in over three decades the National Forest Service cancelled our event, held on BLM land, due to fire/smoke concerns. Ten years ago we began monitoring the sky for transparency. Eight of the last 10 years, our Central Oregon site has had moderate to high smoke levels obscuring the sky. In our wildest dreams we would never have imagined 3 decades ago that amateur astronomy is endangered in our beloved state. Actually, our concern has always been ‘light pollution’ from community-spread and poor lighting ordinances. This month for the first time our board is questioning whether we will be able to continue the Oregon Star Party. There appears to be no time of the year and no location for us to continue the event.
- Candace Pratt from Portland, OR
Climate Change in Kenya
Kenya is suffering from the effects of climate change in much the same way as the United States. I have a nonprofit, Quilts for Empowerment in Western Kenya and my colleague has a nonprofit, The Imani Project, on the East coast of Kenya. However, each program has suffered differently. In the West where I am, heavy rains are threatening newly planted crops. Roads are flooding, roofs are leaking. There is too much water. Conversely, on the coast in the East, Kenyan villages are suffering through years of drought. Newly planted crops have withered and people are starving. Precious water has to be hauled in. In both cases, lives are threatened.
- Mary Ann McCammon
Homesteading in the Heat Dome
During the heat dome, on the second hottest day of the year, we captured deck temps at *117 up to *127 degrees. It was so hot, we had to turn on sprinklers 24 hours a day so our animals like ducks and chickens didn't all die. We bought shopping carts of watermelons and fed them to our animals. We kept our cats, dogs, and rabbits indoors to get them through the hottest days. We still lost three animals who succumbed when they tried to lay eggs in their nesting boxes.
We were forced to purchase shade cloths and rig up extra shade to salvage crops and trees that were dying. I spent hours in the heat watering during the darkest parts of the days, in shifts, so I didn't lose my orchards. I didn't even bother planting a vegie garden as the smoke destroyed my gardens the year before, and I couldn't justify the efforts.
I wore face masks, wet towels, and ice packs to check on my farm in short trips, trying to not die of heat-stroke during my efforts. I heard about several older people dying in our areas because of lack of air conditioning and lack of safe cooling centers.
This is not the climate I was used to growing up in. I have lived within 45 miles of my hometown for 50 years, and we had never had to evacuate before. Now we think about fire prevention even more, and are anxious with each season to see what new calamity awaits to befall us. I chose this area in Oregon to homestead in, as I thought it was the most climate change hardy residence.
Now I see the folly, and see we have nowhere to run. We use well water and water capture, have solar power, grow some of our food, and use a hybrid vehicle. We are open to more options, so let's get more carbon sequestering options available now.
- Angela McFarland from Beavercreek, OR
Both Hometowns Under Attack
I traveled to India each year before the pandemic to visit my grandparents and family. Each year when the plane descended into CCU the sky used to turn a darker and murkier shade of grey. The pollution and air quality was getting worse, and more and more of my family was developing lunch conditions due to the pollution, and it was getting hard for me to breathe the air as well. The current summers reminded me of those summers in Kolkata, with the ashy skies and the quite accepting of the deteriorating climate. Each summer the skies are getting darker and murkier in both Kolkata and Portland, and I’m starting to realize that both of my home towns are under attack.
- Aishiki Nag from Tigard, OR
Helping Animals in the Heatwave
I wanted to add my own climate story. I was born and raised in Vancouver, Washington. At 17, I emancipated myself, moved out, and left home with my fiancée/now husband. We have 2 beautiful kids together and after 7 beautiful fun years of living on the Oregon Coast, we decided to move back to my hometown as it has more opportunities for both our children and I. As a child and teen I don't remember a summer going over 95 and that was an extreme heat wave if it did. There was one summer, the summer after I left, that it broke 99, but 7 years later I just lived through the hottest undoubtedly-caused-by-climate-change summer of my life. The pnw doesn't get as hot as it did this year. So many animals were confused and needed help. Birds, squirrels, raccoons--everyone was so hot. I was leaving containers of water at the base of trees, leaving food out, and bird baths, I'd fill 'em in the morning and evening. We even left our garage open for stray cats and dogs to seek shelter in the sweltering 100 degree weather. Thankfully our garage stays about 15 degrees colder than outside so it could provide refuge to those animals. The heat wave this year broke records from the early 1900s and if that isn't a sign of climate change I don't know what is. We barely handled 110 and 115 degree weather. If we don't act now, the weather next year could be significantly worse and cause horrible catastrophes for people, animals and our crops. We need to take climate action today, now and going forward.
- Misha A. from Seaside, OR
OREGON FOREST FIRES 2017
Traveling east through
the Columbia George,
we cannot see
the other side of the river
due to unholy smoke
hovering over the water.
The sun’s a red orb
in the murky western sky.
We mourn the loss
of Eagle Creek trail:
green moss in mixed forest,
white water pouring
over Punchbowl Falls
and other cascades . . .
dusky water ouzels, dipping . . .
- Shirley Nelson from Florence, OR
A Lack of Bumblebees
It was June,
and I saw a bumble bee
hovering over a flowering shrub.
It's November now, and I have
yet to see a second bumbler hover
close to me.
- D. S. Mitchell from Vancouver, WA
Climate Change Among the Trees
I grew up in the upper Midwest among hardwood trees. Our house was surrounded by pin oaks, elms (until disease got them), ironwood, sugar maple, apple and cherry, pear and plum trees, several conifers including a wonderful blue spruce. Then work took me into cities across the country and I lost the trees. After years of big city/small apartment living, I moved to Portland and was delighted to be among trees again. The first thing I did was to plant a new tree in my backyard and trim the red maples.
But from February to July this year (2021), I watched as my neighborhood trees suffered from terrible damage and destruction. A heavy ice storm in February took snapped branches and took down trees all over this “forest city” and cut off power for many people. Entire trees were pulled up by their roots and brought to the ground by the burden on ice they bore. Their roots couldn’t hold in the rain-softened ground. It was a terrible sight, but there was the hope of spring and regeneration for broken trees. However, in June, just as the trees and gardens and flowers had begun to recover, we were struck by a heat dome.
Conifers burned in the heat, their needles turning brown in exposed spots. Shrubs died, as did newly planted trees. The leaves on my hydrangea bushes curled inward wilted and burned. The usually abundant blue flower heads were sparse and sickly pink. In gardens, runner beans turned brown and crispy. Even sunflowers wilted and hung their heads. The big chestnut trees along some streets and the white birch trees, suffered as well, their newly green leaves dying. The double seed pods on the red maples burned at the wingtips. This heat event was followed by a summer without rain, and although people watered and put watering bags on trees, trees continued to suffer damage.
The trunk of one street tree that I saw cracked open, a crack that widened over summer months until I could have put my fist all the way through the trunk. Trees produced notably fewer leaves or shed leaves; pine trees shed their needles, a survival technique rare to this area. To the south and east in Oregon, fed by drought and high winds, huge forest fires destroyed everything in their paths – trees, animals, and homes. 826,000 acres of Oregon’s beautiful forests burned to a crisp. How many trees is that? If we use a range of between 30 and 90 trees per acre in a forest, we lost 25 to 75 million trees this summer.
All summer I watched the trees in the neighborhood, the city and parts of the forests as they struggled and one thought kept echoing in my head. When the trees die, the planet will die with them. Trees not only produce the oxygen that we take completely for granted, they feed on the carbon dioxide which now poisons the atmosphere. Climate change is the result and all of the events above are the result of climate. It’s not about just one bad year for trees. Given what we know of climate change, it will happen again. It may seem too simple to say that we can change the climate by planting more trees. But the more trees we lose, the more we need to plant. Planting trees is a serious part of the solution, a long term action that will serve us, as well as the coming generations. Plant trees. Plant them in cities and the countryside, and in reforestation projects that are undertaken after fires.
- EJ Robinett from Portland, OR
My fisherman friend
who picks up trash
as he bathes in the wilderness
and puts the fish he hooks
back in the river
can’t stop it
Another who lectures on the subject
sends outraged letters to the paper
rides an e-bike
heats his house by solar
and refuses to eat meat
can’t do enough
My neighbor who used to run
a business that sold old lumber and tools
to save others from falling more trees
and displacing more earth
couldn’t get it done
I have friends who garden
friends who march
friends who pull your heart
into their poems and paintings
and everyone I know
votes like there’s no tomorrow
No one knows what more to do
What will it take I wonder?
— Jack Cooper from Eugene, OR
Trouble in the Oregon Coast Range
There have been a lot of unnerving climactic events in just the last few years that speak to the climate change my beloved Shangri-La, Oregon in the Coast Range is experiencing, including 2020's wildfires - one a mile from my house. It was quickly knocked down, but I packed my cat, Bug, and a few belongings, and spent a sleepless night waiting for a code 3 (Leave Now) alert. My father bought our two acres 47 years ago and promptly decided he needed a bigger retirement income to support the four of us, though my brother and I finally found jobs after helping Mom and Dad move in. He planted the front yard with Japanese Red Maples and opened his long dreamed-of nursery. Brian and I went to work for him and we watched the maples grow for 46 years. Dad crossed over in 1981. The maples continued doing what they do best - growing and changing with the seasons. We've experienced hot summers before but never like the two days of 114° heat this last June. I watched beautiful leaves shrivel almost before my eyes. The evergreens caught a hot wind from the west and needles on that side suddenly turned such a reddish-brown I thought State Forestry had sprayed the canopy with flame retardant. I'm hoping the damage isn't permanent, but next spring's foliage is certainly at risk. There's no place I 'd rather live than in these mountains, I pray daily I can keep it.
- Marcia L. Wilson from Tillamook, OR
Self Portraits During the Fires
- Catherine Gamblin from Portland, OR
Dreaming of a Beautiful Climate
I came to Oregon in 2004 from Arizona with my son and our cat and dog because I had a dream of living in a beautiful climate. We moved up here because of a friend who had a picture that she showed me of another friend of our's who lived in Oregon. I was in awe,...it was SO green lush and it was at that moment that I started to research moving to Oregon. The picture was of our friend in Silver Falls, Oregon standing in front of one of the most beautiful and majestic waterfalls I had ever seen! I wanted my son to have a chance at seeing a change of seasons growing up as I had when I was a child living in Virginia; those were great days!
My son and I have been here now for over 17 years and the changes that we have seen are unreal! It used to rain from October to July...now it doesn't. We had never seen a day when it was 111 degrees here in Oregon until June of 2021. We had never seen fires burning all over our state, or being just several miles from one as it consumed houses, trees, animals and human lives. It left our house and carport looking like the remnants of Mount Vesuvius but we counted ourselves among the very lucky. We had ash falling and covering our house and land for 2 weeks straight and couldn't even go outside during that time because we could not breathe. Climate change is REAL! Anyone who can't see that by now is totally oblivious to what is and has been happening for decades! I keep thinking back to a commercial in my youth where there is an Indian crying because our planet is getting so polluted...that was back in the 1970's folks! I started noticing subtle changes a few years after we had moved here such as less rain every couple of years which became even less as time went by, and ice storms that caused extreme damage to our communities . I also started noticing heat that could rival Arizona on some days as well as how much of nature was starting to disappear. I was not seeing the beautiful birds as much as I had before, geese were being seen in lower numbers and not nearly as common as they once had been when we first came to Oregon. At the coast we had noticed that seagulls and starfish were starting to disappear too; we could no longer find as many as we once did.
- Kerin McCurdy from Eugene, OR
A Rainy Autumn
October was pretty wet, and November is wet so far in Salem. It feels as if the record-breaking summer heat is history. The TV weather forecasters say that statistically, December and January temperatures are mostly below 50 degrees. Climate change still doesn’t seem too bad, here. I’m a climate refugee from Sonoma County, Calif. Down there, summer often extends into mid-October. Wildfires occur, in winter. The hillsides turn brown in spring. Wine grapes are the big cash crop there, and the grapes are withering on the vines.
- Philip Ratcliff from Salem, OR
I live in the pacific northwest and among many symptoms of climate chaos, mega fires are a new reality of mine. Southern Oregon is where I call home and on September 8th, 2020 a region of my home experienced a climate fueled devastation event. For the week leading up to September 8th our region had a record-breaking heat wave with 100-degree weather consistently. This is abnormal for this time of the year. The heat worked to further dry the region and the record wind storm followed. With the equation of a record heat wave and a record wind storm proceeding a climate fueled municipal fire broke out in the towns of Talent and Phoenix. Although I do not live in these communities, I work within the region. I am employed as a police dispatcher. This is easily a day I will never forget in my career. As I attempted to drive into work the roads were heavily congested with vehicles fleeing the smoke and embers. When I arrived to work the center was robust with noise and mayhem. I quickly plugged in and began grabbing as many 911 calls as possible. As the wind fueled the existing fires it also carried fresh burning embers to other portions of the county. There were countless fires started that day on top of the two towns completely burning down. People were calling 911 to ask where their loved ones were, to ask how to evacuate, to report that they can't see through the smoke, and they were asking if their home was gone. That day can only be described as chaotic devastation. It outlined that mobilizing for these climate fueled disasters is near impossible because this planning has not been prioritized. Having these conversations with each other is so very important. In emergency planning, discussing a game plan and knowing what to do in an emergency situation is the best way to make it out alive. Moving forward this is my advice to you. Research the climate science and learn the growing climate crisis trends in your area. Come up with a game plan on how to take care of yourself and your loved ones. Make the changes in your life that you can to reduce your carbon footprint and draw carbon from the atmosphere. Lastly, lobby your local government for action in your community. Do not wait for a disaster to get started.
- Vanessa Ogier from Grants Pass, OR
Fir Trees and Fire
I have been distressed for years about our climate and our country. Oregon, where I live, is drying out with increasing fires. Even if our fir trees survive the heat, I am concerned that they will be stressed to the point of susceptibility to insects, and that the insects that destroy them will increase with the heat. That, in turn, would also affect wildlife and water and air quality. (My background is in Botany, and yes, if you are interested, I have had to evacuate because of the fires.)
My climate story is not meant to break your heart. After seeing our beautiful state buckle under the weight of deforestation, wildfires, and habitat fragmentation and experiencing my own heartbreak at the losses of plant and animal life (humans included), my story is one of possibility. Elected officials must act, and soon. We can too.
Our connection to Nature has become as fragmented as the forest, and one of the ways I stay integrated with the world and adapt to climate change is: I feed the birds. You may ask, “What does feeding the birds have to do with global warming?” It turns out, for me, everything. When the heat domes and the ice storms descended upon Oregonians, the animals struggled too.
On our tiny balcony, I provided food, water, and shelter for hummingbirds, thrushes, doves, and more avian friends. I placed water in alleyways for passing squirrels or coyotes to get a drink. Most importantly, I felt the gravity of their situation, caused by us and then the levity of my being able to help. On those days, I imagine my future self, decades from now, living in a world that pulled itself back from the brink of disaster, grateful that I helped some, including myself, stay alive.
- Diana Hulet from Portland, OR
Climate Stories from Mosier
My small city of Mosier has quite a story! First of all, we are located within the Columbia River Gorge national scenic area, about 70 miles east of Portland Oregon and on the banks of the Columbia river. In 1996 we had a major flood that took out a few houses, and in the last 12 years we've had three major fires where the governor declared a conflagration. The gorge is renowned as a world class WindSport destination, so it's not uncommon in the summer months to have 30 to 50 mile an hour winds. As drought and fire danger have increased, this combination is a recipe for disaster, and for the last several summers we all feel like we live in a game of Russian roulette just making it through the fire season.
In 2016, a UPRR unit train of Bakken Crude Oil derailed and caught fire within our city limits. These are known as bomb trains as the explosion is capable of such intense heat, that when one derailed in Quebec a few years ago, of the 47 people who died, several had incinerated from the heat where nothing was left.
The train derailment happened very near our elementary school, so 200 kids were evacuated, the freeway was closed in both directions as it was in the blast zone, and a horrible plume of black smoke was emitted from the burning cars. 25,000 gallons of crude oil was captured by our waste water treatment plant, and win oil was entering the Columbia River via the outfall pipe, bonneville Dam stopped power generation to raise the level of the river to hold the oil in the pipe with back pressure.
At the time, downstream Inn Vancouver Washington, the port had all ready approved of plans for the Tesoro savage terminal, which would have been the largest in the United States, built to export crude oil to Asia.
Our town and community sprung into action to become a voice to oppose crude oil transport, and our situation became instrumental in turning the tides on the terminal, which eventually was defeated! We became part of the safe energy leader ship alliance, chaired by Dow Constantine, the executive king county, to align elected officials all along the tracks on issues of oil train safety. I joined climate mayors and became part of a dedicated group of elected officials, pledging to uphold the commitments of the Paris agreement. I attended the North American climate summit in Chicago and the global climate action summit in San Francisco, and reiterated those pledges.
Our community chose collaboration versus litigation and through a year and a half process, we came to an agreement with the railroad that included them giving us some land and some funding towards a vision for the future. Now we are at 60% funding and Design for a triple net Zero Community center fire station and City Hall, which will serve our community and the region for the next century. https://mosiercenter.com. We also were able to get full funding for two high-speed EV chargers, a hub for bicyclist and a plaza honoring the tribes, and also full funding to transform our wastewater treatment plant to a wetland treatment, eliminating Direct discharge into the Columbia River. We also have plans to enhance pedestrian and bicycle safety and plant trees all through the town along the roadways. We have a dark sky ordinance, and also are doing the most to update our codes to reflect Smart design, bio swales, and energy efficiency into all of our residential and commercial projects.
Our motto is "small enough to make a difference”.
Because of our efforts, I was appointed by the governor of Oregon to be a co -convener of the Oregon Electric Vehicle Collaborative, bringing Government Agencies, Private Utilities, Non profits and others to the table so we can help solve the transition towards the electrification of the transportation sector, all working together. We just finished 2 1/2 years in this effort and have a declaration of cooperation that will give these entities a path forward to not only make policy recommendations, but to be aligned in vision and purpose.
When I was in Chicago for the North American climate summit, and the mayors of Los Angeles and Chicago committed to climate action, I felt that if they could make those commitments with all the problems of the great big cities then we should be able to do at a lesser scale, even more easily. Our city Council has declared a climate emergency and also joined the C 40 cities in the cities race to zero.
We aspire to be a template for other small towns and big cities in Oregon and beyond.
- Arlene Burns, Mayor of Mosier, OR
Climate Change in the Garden
I have gardened for thirty years now. At the start I learned that lots of work takes place early spring through June, then one simply waters in July and August, maybe some of September, which makes for a respite of sorts before fall harvesting and putting the plants to bed for the winter.
About 10 years ago June started to also be a month to water, in part and after a few years, in full. September also became a month to water in its entirety. Three years ago or so May joined the dry months. And now April is becoming the month the hoses come out of the garage to be put in place for watering.
Around here we have changed from dry months of July through August to drought months of part of April through all of September. Everywhere on this earth, our island home, has such a story, many stories.
- Donna Maebori from Portland, OR
A Septuagenarian's Perspective
I turned 70 years old this year, with both joy and dismay. I'm grateful to have lived a long and fulfilling life and saddened that so much has changed during my lifetime. My grandchildren will not know the world I grew up in.
Advancements have continued to expand exponentially since my grandfather died, but they have come with an incredible cost. We go faster, are more efficient, communicate at the speed of light, and have access to more entertainment and "stuff" than ever before, yet, in spite of all our conveniences and material wealth, seem unhappier than ever. In making ourselves more comfortable in our artificial environments, we have distanced ourselves from the effects of our actions on the natural world, ignoring the fact that the health of our planet is essential to our wellbeing and survival.
I grew up in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington. My brother and I built igloos in abundant snow drifts in the yard each winter. Summertime skies were clear of smoke and studded with stars at night. Mount Hood was a white sentinel on our horizon most of the year. As a teen and young adult, I embraced hiking and backpacking in our national forests. When I met my husband, we took up whitewater rafting and canoeing on all the major rivers and lakes in the Pacific Northwest (and some in the Southwest and Canada, too). It felt like I was living in a golden age. Then I became aware that things I thought would always be there were starting to go away.
Now I often worry about what the future holds for our planet and its people. Our lakes and rivers are drying up. Many of the trails I loved to hike have been lost to fire. We have a forested farm in the Cascade foothills from which we had to evacuate last year because of our proximity to the Riverside and Dowty Road fires. Summer air quality and temperatures, both inside and outside our home are, too often, unhealthy and unbearable. We had to cancel our last canoe trip in Canada because of the raging forest fires there. Summers are getting hotter and drier. Our beloved Mt. Hood is bare of snow more days each year and its glaciers are melting. We no longer get more than a dusting of snow at our elevation, where once we had enough to cross-country ski right out the front door. This year's heat dome in June destroyed much of our berry crop and all of this year's Christmas tree seedlings. We now have insect pests in our orchard that we never had before, because they never came this far north.
What I want to say is that my generation was ignorant of the effect our actions were having on our climate and environment, and for that I am truly sorry. Now the evidence is overwhelming and cannot be denied. My husband and I are doing what we can by putting solar panels on our barn, driving an electric car, and keeping most of our farm forested for carbon sequestration, but we know it isn't enough. We Oregonians and our leaders, both State and National, need to radically change priorities and policies NOW to mitigate and hopefully halt the environmental damage we are causing. The development of new clean energy technologies of solar, wave, and wind generation, and the recognition of the importance of carbon sequestration, along with acknowledgement of the need to stop our reliance on fossil fuel energy are all encouraging, but time is crucial. I desperately want my grandchildren to be able to breathe clean air, have abundant water to drink, and be able to enjoy whatever wild places that are left for them. I believe that if we could put a man on the moon in the 1960's, we can make the changes that are so desperately needed for a sustainable future. Those changes need to happen now.
- Cathy Fantz from Eagle Creek, OR
Triple Assault Climate Change
I came to Oregon in 2009, a state known for its rainy winters and dry summers. I never thought Oregon would endure disastrous weather.
Yet, in the past fifteen months, I witnessed three phenomenal storms.
Back in August 2020, wildfires ravaged Oregon. To make matters worse, the fierce wind came that only fanned the fire.
The wind knocked down a sizable tree in my neighborhood that obliterated a transformer. As a result, my street was without power for over 48 hours.
As if having no electricity wasn’t bad enough, the atmosphere became so thick with smoke that it darkened the sky for days. I even noticed a drop in temperature.
I was thankful to have the protection of the Willamette River. If not for the river, West Linn would have been vulnerable to the flames, and my family and I would have had to evacuate. While we didn’t get the worst of the situation, that fire combined with wind brought a memorable disaster to my small town.
And that was just the firestorm!
Five months later, an ice storm brought freezing temperatures and precipitation. We didn’t get snowed in, but it covered everything in ice, including the trees.
For several days and nights, branches fell off of the trees right and left. The falling trees knocked power out for almost a whole day.
At night, I worried about the trees falling on top of my house. Outside, the situation became too hazardous to walk or drive. When the tree limb breakage ceased, my mother and I went to the store for some supplies.
We were awestruck by the countless tree limbs that littered the landscape, besides all the leftover ice. Cleanup crews were hard at work for weeks before they cleared Highway 43.
Finally, this past June, the Northwest experienced a record heatwave. One that turned the Portland metro area into the Mojave.
For the first two days, my family hunkered down during the extreme heat. I only ventured out twice each day and only for a few minutes. I recall how my home’s small evergreen tree became severely sunburnt.
Like the previous two storms, I knew that climate change was the culprit. I remember how Saturday of that weekend was 106; Sunday was 109, and on Monday, it was 112.
I am surprised to have seen heat records broken in a matter of consecutive days within my lifetime. I miss the days in which heat records were years, or even decades, apart. Not days. Or would it be more than a matter of hours?
After enduring those three storms in such a narrow time window, I dread what may come next. A deadly lightning storm? A tornado outbreak? A deluge?
As the climate changes, these scenarios become increasingly plausible, and not just for the Northwest. I do hope we will do everything possible to mitigate, if not prevent, these threats.
- Peter Schneider from West Linn, OR
I didn’t expect to find healing in these woods. The fear was still smoldering in my bones. Remnants of adrenaline huddled in corners of my body as we hiked up to see what disappeared, and what remained. Burn scars tell a story. It is an ancient story woven into the earth itself. Peel back layers of topsoil or tree bark in almost any forest on earth and you find the clues.
Fire chief Marshall Turbeville brought us here to teach us something about fire. How it behaves in wild spaces. How it consumes and creates. How it wraps fingers around massive trunks, ascends upward and performs entropy. He understands fire as much as it can be understood.
Chief Marshall is an affable man with a short crop of brown hair and an easy smile. His blue eyes, wise and bright which contrast his boyish face. He promotes casual familiarity in his class, and insists we call him by his first name. His memory is legendary among his crew. I learned about it after speaking to his captain, Brian.
“He sees them in his sleep—old roads and canyons that don’t exist on maps.” Brian, a sturdy, articulate man of thirty, grew up in the Coffey Park that disappeared into rubble. “We call the chief in the middle of the night about a fire, and he rattles off directions to some ole logging roads noones ever heard of. He sure is something else.”
I watch the chief as he scans the hillside, his hands are perfectly still. If they call him Chief, I am calling him Chief. He talks about the land as if it’s an old buddy who is battling cancer. He believes the disease can be contained, perhaps even beaten. We trust his guarded optimism. What other choice do we have? The Chief is third in a lineage of fire chiefs, his father and grandfather held the post before him. Chief Marshal Turbeville was right here, in the Ranch, on the night of October 8. He managed trench-lines and lit backfires in an effort to prevent the fire from heading northward to the bedroom communities of Windsor and Healdsburg. Fires like the Tubbs are an order of magnitude more powerful than other forest fires in the age of drought and climate warming. They are not so much fought by firemen, as they are witnessed. The intense heat and unpredictable flaring are too perilous to fight against. The wind, too violent and erratic to contain. The strategy is to essentially wait out the initial surge of nature. A war of attrition that the fire usually wins. Preserve human life, then some property if possible. Maybe look for a spike in the relative humidity. But there is no real fight to speak of—sometimes for many days. Manned with pulaskis and shovels, firemen sit back and they watch. Some of them text their loved ones while others prep supplies or unravel hoses. A few of them pray. Shiloh Ranch Park is a favorite among trail-runners and for afternoon picnics. In spring you may witness a dazzle of wildflowers like Rosy Sand crocuses or Ithurial’s Spears—quite vivid in bloom. The hiking paths are bisected with lumpy roots and dotted with ancient rocks as they wind up and around an escarpment of mixed conifers. Occasional black oaks and valley oaks can be seen across the prairie, defiant relics of a different age. Thickly grown stands of madrone and pine form a canopy above the trail. In some sections the trails linger and dangle bravely above a deeply cut ravine below. Five thousand years of erosion and runoff cleaved out an earthen void. At dusk you can hear the crunching of leaves as mule deer move up from the creeks.
To imagine a rolling fire surge through this docile place is surreal. Once fire discovers a ravine like the one below us, it likes to climb. And climb it does. The natural V shape creates an updraft that radiates heat up the hillside. Never run up hill if you are caught in the path of wildfire. It is a race you cannot win. The chief remembers the night well. He is not prone to hyperbole however it was a simple combination of the worst conditions he’d ever seen.
“Bone dry and gusty as hell.” He watched the walls of sheeting flame rip through Shiloh valley and catapult to adjacent tree-studded hillsides. He saw what many firemen see once in a career: crown fires dancing across treetops—thieves steeling their way across the land. He heard the shriek of Foehn winds, those ungodly devils howled and burst at record tilts. They exploded fire whirls into patches of madrone and moss-covered buckeyes. He watched ember bullets dart and twirl, cast out from vortexes—out beyond the wild lands out beyond the slopes. They rained down a thousand sparks on swing-sets and sycamore trees along sleepy streets.
Miles and miles away, new flames transformed by gusts into rogue destroyers without warning. He saw the epic dispersion unfold again and again at random, throughout the city while so many slept.
The embers found their way onto rooftops and rotting fences, tool sheds and old muscle cars parked along the curbs. The chief made his way to Mark West Springs and fell back as the walls of flame charged forward like so many rogue waves. One by one, the surges blanketed across cul de sacs and fast-food joints and parking lots. He saw fire do the unimaginable—transect highway 101 into Coffey Park. He later helped clear bodies from the ashes. Today was a new day. The absence of wind, reassuring. But we still felt unsettled. Like the chief, we are connected to the past. Several students lost their homes and cars in the blaze. But today the air is still and cool. The hills are covered in thin strands of luscious green blades. The moss and sword ferns promise a new life but look strange above the charcoal blackness. I listen to the chief’s voice as he steers the class toward bunches of chaparrals. The intrepid shrub made a deal with fire a millennia before the first westerner hiked these trails.
Bushes like manzanita evolved as heat and flame force out dormant seeds which germinate profusely after fire. The chief continues his lesson and unexpectedly his voice fades away from me. I travel back in my mind to that night... I stood along Fountaingrove Parkway, looking down on a neighborhood laid siege to by a battalion of amorphous orange batteries. I was merely a witness among others. It felt odd to stand above and look down on a fiery gale. To watch the sea of fire ebb and flow over so many houses. I thought to myself, people are down there, running and crawling and some are dying. They are knock-kneed coughing like hags and I am standing here helpless. Another full breath of air cools my lungs and the orange glow fades as I return to Shiloh.
Dazed but alert, the chief’s voice comes back to me. It’s soothing and clear. My pulse stabilizes. The chief says, “time to head out...back to the school.” I take in another deep inhale of the crisp air, and it calms my nerves. The air is tinged with a burnt freshness like that smell of campfire snuffed out by an unexpected rain. As I walked down the crooked trail I listened to our footsteps on the gravel. The sound grew louder and overlapped our voices as we descended the ridge, footsteps crunching the soil and rocks. The realization walloped me, our impermanence in this place. These trails shaped and re-shaped a million times by a cataclysm of natural force beyond comprehension. They have no memory of us. All the elements living and dying in the same moment—stasis is never achieved. Fire has known the land since the dawn of time. It destroys. And then at the absolute cusp of atrophy, a new life breaks through and flourishes. I wonder what life will be in a post-climate change world. As I navigated the edge of the trail toward the parking lot, I looked out beyond the canopy to the clear sky. My mind was lost in massive notions like hope and time.
My thoughts were heavy as the wind brushed my cheek for an instant and then the air was still. The voice of a thousand winds filled my heart—and it became saturated with indescribable things. I felt a staggering reverence for the solitude of this place and then a deep sadness, which lives within me now. Yet, I am grateful for the hills. I am grateful for chiefs who lead captains down (unknown) logging roads. For brave firefighters who stand against the raging heat—look death in the face and charge forward. I am grateful for saplings of Doug fir and scores of Purple Iris that dot the northern slopes. Grateful to see buds sprouting from the root crown of valley oaks and deer scamper across the creek, unfazed by human eyes. I am grateful for a roof over my head and a family who loves me. I am grateful that I remember the glow and raging seafire and those ungodly winds. And I am grateful for verdant hills adorned in Irises—reborn again.
- Sean Coleman from Bend, OR
Learning About Climate
A few years ago when I first wrote about our “Altars of Extinction” homeschool project, I was explaining away why I had chosen to bend David Sobel’s rule of “no tragedies before the fourth grade”. As it turns out the rule was about to be obliterated anyway. Our daughter’s fourth grade ended up being a tragedy of global proportions in and of itself. For her personally, initially, the disaster was that her coveted “All Kids in a Park Pass” and all the adventures it promised to bring to her that year were flat out cancelled. The possibility of seeing geothermal pools, giant sequoias, endless canyons - just vanished. As the virus mercilessly spread and began to affect all the corners of her childhood she slowly began to understand that this new reality would affect more than just her pass plans, more than just fourth grade. Together we slowly began to understand that this would change everything.
So we did what our instincts told us. We hunkered down.
While outside our home the topics of vaccinations and the economy dominated inside our homeschool we were reorienting to our new reality with the help of nature. We acknowledged our imprisonment by an enemy of microscopic proportions and gargantuan might and we came to admit that we earned it. Whether habitat encroachment, wet markets, lab debacles, global fossil fueled travel, however it happened we humans had our highly developed brains mixed up in it. As loneliness ticked on we began to notice how many animals visited us while in this prison of our own making. Ducks, elk, deer...one day a heron landed on the pond and we rushed out like a great aunt had just pulled into our driveway. Animals have always kept way more than six feet distance from us. They’ve known since forever how dangerous we humans can be. For me, it took witnessing the in-fighting that broke out over a request that we acknowledge our interdependence and act like a herd in this emergency, to understand how dangerous we are.
We fought the existential and physical isolation by actively wondering who would come to visit us next. As the seasons unfolded, the rest of nature cycled and moved with enviable grace and we remained arrested. It was about the time that we started celebrating a second round of pandemic birthdays at home without friends that I understood the only immunity I saw building in my human herd was an immunity to shame. An immunity to the healthy kind of shame that comes built in for the explicit purpose of helping us social beings learn to relate to one another in a way that promises survival together. As a parent forever patrolling for toxic shaming of my children it was time to talk to them about the other necessary kind of shame. The shame we desperately need now more than ever to commandeer our attention away from what’s trending and hold it to the fire of what should be show-stopping news; the climate is collapsing real time.
Sadly, I didn’t have to do much lesson prep for this part of pandemic homeschool. The curriculum created itself. As it happened, the kind of news worthy of listening to and learning from, that cannot be faked or deemed partisan or pushed by an algorithm, ended up being broadcast live, outside, all around us. While fights were breaking out about indoor mask mandates this past summer and the debate about personal liberty was reaching a boiling point nature deployed a smoke screen. Literally. Masks inside weren’t the issue brought to our attention. This summer we needed to wear N95s outside - to take care of the animals who need tending to irregardless of what humans are fighting about. From inside I watched our horse slow her usual summer activity in the pasture to limit her inbreathe. The smoke this fire season was so thick that for weeks we couldn’t see if there were birds in the sky - we couldn’t see the sky. The sun hung red for the longest days of the year and stuck inside there was plenty of time to ponder freedom. While Covid seemed to be the nightmare much of society was waiting to wake from in order to resume a collective “normal” the news that reached us was much more primal, a smoke signaled SOS that there is no going back to anything.
This fall, we drove through the charred remains of the forest and it etched into us this haunting truth. Mile after mile we felt the essential humbling that only nature can deliver as we navigated the boneyard of a collective nightmare. The decimation of fire teaches a powerful lesson - there is only “where do we go from here”. The landscape was more than a crematorium. It was a blank slate. What stood for centuries had been reduced to impossibly soft and crumbling charcoal. It reminded me of the charcoal we used to draw treasure maps and nature sketches in our early homeschool years. It reminded me of the years dedicated to exploring, mapping, and studying nature when I still thought it was possible to protect my children’s biophilia. Our entire home education has been centered on one belief - if in the end our children love nature, deeply, they will do everything in their power to save it when the time comes. That time came so much sooner than I thought it would. For miles of our drive there was silence. There was awe. When we emerged from the forest it was with one common knowing; Climate change is upon us and we have a few short years to do whatever it takes...together.
- Caroline Keating from Bend, OR
Is This Home?
In late summer of last year, I moved back into my parents’ house in Northern Oregon, after nearly a decade spent out-of-state. I was not particularly keen to return—I had a steady job teaching English in Japan, and the mid-coronavirus pandemic job market in the U.S. looked dismal—but a minor family crisis had made the decision for me.
As I packed, I told myself how lovely it would be to be with family, and to live in Oregon’s gentle, temperate climate again. “You’ve missed the rain,” I told myself. I always made a point of describing the rain whenever Japanese people asked me about my homeland. “It never storms in Oregon,” I would say. “We don’t get monsoons. The rain always falls softly.” I returned to my parents’ house in early September. I did not step foot outside of it again for a month.
Just miles away, the worst wildfires that Oregon had yet known were raging. The air outside was rough with smoke that scratched the nose and eyes. The sky was a sheet of dull, hazy brown that turned an ugly, foul orange at sunset. Every day, my mother anxiously consulted the weather report to see if the air quality was high enough to risk opening the windows, or to leave the house for groceries. Every day, she dutifully informed me, “I think it’d be better if you didn’t go outside.” A few weeks after my return, I caught my parents worriedly discussing whether we ought to prepare emergency packs, in case an evacuation order was issued for our town. My parents are cautious people; they had supplies aplenty for floods and earthquakes, but now found that they had nothing to escape with in case our town began to burn. They had never seen a need. A month or so after my return, the wildfires began to subside. The smoke cleared from the air; eventually, my mother stopped checking the air quality and simply opened the house windows each afternoon. But I barely stepped foot outside. Every day, the sun was shining.
From the day the smoke cleared on, by late morning I could look out my window and see a sky that was clear and blue and bright. I hated it. I hated everything. I hated myself, my family, Oregon. In the decade that I’d been away, I hadn’t come back to visit for more than a few weeks at a time; while the winters and summers I spent in Japan gradually grew hotter, in my mind, Oregon stayed cool and lovely. I would tell my Japanese friends lovingly of how green Oregon was, how gray, how the constant drizzle produced a landscape so lush it looked like something out of a picture book, that the price of this beauty was that there were always clouds in the sky. Yet for months after my return, there were no clouds, there was no rain, and I cried nearly every day, wishing I had never come home.
- Emma DeFontes from Tigard, OR
A Prayer for Baby Birds
Since moving to Bend OR in 2005, I have landscaped my small backyard with mostly native plants and no turf. Over the years, I noticed how numerous and varietous in species of birds visit my yard throughout the year, even though I offered no bird food or facilities, other than a columnar basalt water feature. A few years ago, I decided to try to support nesting by building a couple of cedar bird nest boxes, using plans downloaded from the Cornell Bird Lab website. Because they are one of my favorite song birds, I built a chickadee nest box with 1-1/8" diameter opening. I placed the nest boxes as far away from each other to avoid territorial issues, but for the first year or two there were no nesting birds. After moving the nest box locations away from the grove of incense cedars (Calocedrus decurens) where stellar and scrub jays like to nest, a pair of pygmy nuthatches moved in. I actually observed the pair discovering the nest box and "trying it out for size" several times (according to Cornell Bird Lab the opening for pigmy nuthatches should be 1" but these birds evidently were not too picky).
The pigmy nuthatches returned year-after-year, successfully breeding and providing me with endless entertainment. Pigmy nuthatches are quite acrobatic and tolerant of humans. This year, the nuthatches seemed a bit late returning to the nest boxes, and I noticed them "nest box hunting" testing out the second nest box, which was located in a shady spot of my yard, but they apparently decided to return to the same nest box they used before on the opposite end of the yard with less shade. Of course, I am assuming these birds were of the same family of previous years, but I feel comfortable in that they seemed to recognize me. Of course, late Spring and early summer recorded some of the warmest temperatures on record in Oregon, and I was concerned about the survival of the fledglings, which were being fed continuously by their parents flying across my yard searching for and returning with food. From Doug Tallamy's recent book Nature's Best Hope - A New Approach to Conservation in Your Yard, I learned that breeding birds need a massive number of caterpillars to supply the protein and carotenoids necessary to grow and fledge successfully and those caterpillars only feed on native plants.
Unfortunately, just when this year's brood were getting ready to fledge, the record heat wave hit with temperatures in the mid-to-high 100s recorded in Bend. When my weather station hit 104 deg F, I knew I had to try to save the baby birds because the nest box was exposed to afternoon sun. First, I tried to shade the nest box, then noticing that the female was still struggling, I tried showering the nest box with cold water, trying to avoid getting the interior of the nest box wet. While showering the nest box late in the afternoon, the female came out of the nest box and gave me a fearful look I will never forget, then flew off abandoning the nest box. She returned to the nest box the next morning but did not stay long. Later, I opened the nest box and found three dead baby pigmy nuthatches with fully developed fight feathers and beaks open as if crying for relief. I believe I saw at least one of the babys fledge (pigmy nuthatch females produce 4-6 eggs per brood once per year, according to Stan Tekiela, Birds of Oregon, page 185). I pray for the safety of baby birds.
- Frank Huebsch from Bend, OR