Sarah is my thirty-five-year-old daughter. A borderline millennial. I make her listen to all of my climate change stories before I share them with the rest of the world. She is my perfect audience. Climate change just isn’t that interesting to her. She tolerates my obsession but I can almost hear her thinking, “whatever, mom.” She has a very short attention span and my best hope is to plant a seed so that when climate change hits her square in the face she’ll recognize it for what it is and not some anomaly or aberration.
She’s not callous. She’s not insensitive. If anything, she’s super sensitive. Turning away is a form of self-preservation. I understand that. Some things are just too overwhelming. It’s a form of— ‘if I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist.’
It’s Saturday morning. I’m hanging out on the couch and Sarah is pacing in the living room. She goes to the bookcase and pulls out my Rand McNally Road Atlas (yes, I own a laminated hard copy road atlas of the United States).
“I’m having a nature emergency. I’ve got to find a river. I’ve got to throw myself into a river and let the water rush over my body. I’ve got to do it right now, immediately.”
The closest river is the Kern River—three hours north of Los Angeles. It is fed by snow run off from the Sierra’s. It gets big and swollen and has some sizable rapids in June and July. Just the ticket. She packs a bag, her guitar, five books, a notepad and takes off for what is left of the weekend.
I check Instagram a few times over the next thirty hours—but uncharacteristically there is only one post; a selfie of sad girl in a swimsuit standing next to a shallow river with the hashtag ‘I needed a river, but what I found was a creek.’
“How was your trip?” I ask when she gets back the very next day. “Did it do the trick?”
She starts to sob. “Mom you were right. Climate change is real.”
“The river only came mid-way up my calves, the mountains were brown and dry like they were choking to death. I went to the river to get restored, to let nature feed something in me that gets deadened from living in the city, but what I went for wasn’t there.”
I decided to consult Señor Google. Mt Whitney, the highest peak in the continental US, feeds the Kern River with its snowmelt. But warmer temperatures mean less snow, and less snow means less water in the river. The effects of climate change on the Kern and California overall have been drastic. Meteorologist say these have been some of the driest conditions in the last 100 years.
“I realized that nature needs us as much as we need nature. The trip wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. I’ve abandoned nature and now it’s not there when I need it.”
We sit there, both of us, tears running down our cheeks.
“I’m ready to do something.” She says.