Dispatches from the Future
It was May 23rd, 2037. The student watched the sun set over the trees from a window of the 5th floor computer lab in Butte Hall. Tomorrow was a special day for the university, its 150th anniversary. She was graduating early in the morning to avoid the crushing heat that would engulf the town as the day wore on. The school calendar had elongated the summer vacation by a month in order to keep students away during the hottest times, which were most brutal in late summer. A small smile spread across her lips as memories of the past five years flashed across her mind.
She had spent much of her time working with Adventure Outings (AO), the outdoor program that transformed her time at Chico. The program had changed significantly over the years because of climate change. Heat, drought, fires and more had greatly diminished the number of trips that AO sent out.
Throughout her life and especially through her college years, weather patterns changed sporadically. For the first two years of her work with Adventure Outings, the program was forced to cancel all snow trips since there was so little precipitation. On any trips with sunny weather, the trip leaders had to be extra cautious about heat stroke and severe sun burns. One participant last month got 2nd degree burns on her legs and was sent to the hospital. The previous year there was a devastating fire up by the Trinity River where many AO rafting trips went. Thousands of acres of forest by the river were charred we well as several small communities in the surrounding area. The fire had been devastating, and many broken towns were still trying to figure out how to rebuild.
Two AO rafting trips went out that spring, and many students were eager to get on the trip that had been cancelled because of the fire. The trips were different now; the climate was changing and therefore limiting their access to the outdoors. However, the program used this as a learning opportunity for students to get a chance for hands-on experience helping to restore areas after natural disasters. She was a leader on the second AO trip. Her and the other leaders helped the participants pump up their rafts and push off in the icy water, their boats breaking the smooth, glassy surface of the water. They passed the green fields and blooms of fiery poppies along the bank. A river otter poked its furry head up above the surface, saw the boats and dove back down into the depths. They paddled on until they came ‘round a bend and into an area that the fire had swept through.
The hills surrounding the river were blackened and dead, with no sign of life. It was a horrible sight, but the rafters’ grim faces were set in determination. This was why they were here. They bumped the big blue rubber boats to the shore of the large pond of slow-moving water. Participants and trip leaders alike slipped on their gloves and hopped out. They tied the boats to the bank and pulled out the straw wattles they brought. They worked together, dragging the thick sacks of straw across the water until they let them sink down to the river floor. They were there to trap the sediment, increase infiltration, and provide a seedbed for vegetative recovery.
When the wattles were laid across the riverbed, the trip leaders produced a sack with seeds of native drought-tolerant vegetation to replant on the banks, since much of it had been desterilized due to the intense heat of the fire. They were sprinkling seeds on the banks when one participant slipped in the wet ash and with a yelp, fell back into the water. It was if something had awoken inside everyone. They jumped in as well, their splashes and screams of joy echoing in the charred canyon.
An hour later, they finished their task and set off on the water once more. They passed ponds and banks where the previous AO rafting trip from earlier that semester had already restored the area. The soggy students grinned and cheered when they saw that little seedlings had already sprouted; they knew what their bank would soon look like.
A door down the hall of Butte 503 slammed shut, and the girl snapped out of her memories. Her warm smile glowed from the reflection of the fiery sun disappearing over the tree line. The sun kept sinking, sinking, then was gone. She sighed. She picked up her backpack and walked out of the room. It was time for the next step. She was ready.
-- Sophia Lepore