Saturday, October 28, 2017

Heading North

San Francisquito Creek overflowing its banks
We had several reasons for moving north in 2007, from Palo Alto, where we'd lived for 35 years, to
Bellingham. One was the Great Flood of Iris Way in February 1998, when a high tide and too much rain for too many days in a row cooperated to make the creeks overflow. A lot of Palo Alto was untouched, but those of us on the east end, closest to the Baylands, got a little wet. We'd recently remodeled our house, lifting it up a few feet per flood plain requirements, so no water came inside. But many of our neighbors had water in their living rooms. At the curb, Iris Way is about seven feet above sea level.

What I chiefly remember about the flood is that my son, Victor, who was 13 then, had caught a flu that was spreading through Santa Clara County. He had a temperature that morning of 104 degrees. He could see through the big window in our dining room, just as we could, that if he needed to go to the ER at Stanford Hospital, he would have to travel at least partway by boat. Because he always ran a higher fever than the other two kids, I didn't panic. We kept him comfortable while we were bringing his temperature down. No ER trips were necessary, and the water receded in a couple of days. But if the flu had been a little more potent, if the other kids had caught it, too, if the rain had continued . . . then we would have had a tiny taste of what Puerto Ricans are suffering now.

I've heard that plans are finally being entertained to protect the valuable real estate in Palo Alto (and the Google, Facebook, and other sites across the freeway) from further flooding. That's good news for the friends we left behind. I guess you could say that we moved north as climate refugees, very early ones. We still live on a bay, but now we're 100 feet above sea level, which should keep us safe for a while. Much of the coastal PNW is similarly elevated. Rising temperatures--even Bellingham is getting hotter--and the resulting loss of habitat for plants will be what depopulates our country and the world. But first we'll be faced with storms, flooding and fires, fewer here than elsewhere. Although August wildfires in British Columbia and east of the Cascades made it hard to breathe in Bellingham, we are not in the kind of pressing danger that the residents of Norfolk, Miami, New Orleans, and dry California are.

Octavia Butler
Soon I'm going to reread Octavia Butler's The Parable of the Sower, the futuristic story of a young woman from unlivable Los Angeles who makes her way north into Oregon, across barriers that exist to keep Californians out. The book was published in 1993, some six years before Butler herself moved to the Seattle area, where she died before her time in 2006.

The Parable of the Sower is a good book, with a brave heroine who creates a theology that helps her withstand the horrors she witnesses and undergoes.  It's a prescient book as well. I don't believe that a wall will be built through the Siskiyous in Northern California, but our southern neighbors won't be warmly welcomed here either, as indeed my husband and I were not welcomed when we arrived.

Domestic immigration will be a bigger challenge to Oregon and Washington than foreign. We will have to decide how generous we will be to newcomers. I think we might as well be generous because I doubt that not being generous will keep anyone out. 

1 comment:

  1. As a fellow immigrant from the south - I think you are on to something here. We were worried about our welcome when we became Bellinghamsters in 1993. Then we found out that on our little cul-de-sac, not a single family was native Washingtonian. But we did change our license plates as quickly as possible!