“Like this,” he said, pointing at the mountains, the trees, the lake as blue as his eyes.
Nearly a decade later, we came close to that life when we moved to Flagstaff, Ariz., and I got a teaching job at Northern Arizona University. Here we have trees and mountains. We have a lake but it’s neither giant nor very blue — it’s the reservoir that provides water to the city.
Last summer it was closed so helicopters could dip their Bambi buckets into it and pull water to dump on the fire west of town. The county also closed the forests to hiking, biking and camping — the main things we do for fun when we’re not raking the pine needles that the ponderosa trees shake off in both fall and spring or watering the apple tree we bought when our shared narrative included learning how to grow an orchard and make cider in this place where we planned to stay forever.
Nothing changes your story like the death of your shared dream.
Every summer in Flagstaff, as in Tahoe, fire threatens. Every year the flames surge closer to town. The snowfall is now measured in inches instead of feet. The monsoon storms missed us one summer, and then again. Erik and I bicker about how much rain is too little. How much snow is too little? But we know that at some point this town will be too burned or parched for us to stay.
What do you do when your story becomes one of drought? Perhaps it’s a kind of Mad-Max, punk-rock existence for us to live in this high mountain desert town, but we lost our street cred as punks as soon as we started saying “breast pump” on a daily basis. Now, the only pumps we talk about are those that draw water from wells that must be drilled deeper every year.
My friend Rebecca says, “Move to Oregon with me.”
I would go in a second. I lived there once. Rebecca and Todd and I could drum up our old stories of life in Portland: Todd playing sax, Rebecca painting in a small closet, me hanging out at Powell’s bookstore, wandering the aisles of literature longingly. But Erik has no story there. Could we write a new one?
Although we could write a new story in Oregon, we are still wedded to our story in Arizona. We are adjusting to the uncomfortable fact that we aren’t going to get out of here, but we also can’t stay. A Schrödinger’s cat kind of love that says we must live in two stories simultaneously — one that says climate change is already here and one that says we are here, our family is here, our love is here.