AllAmericas

Climate Change

When you're used to the woods, the prairie can be disconcerting.

When you're used to the woods, the prairie can be disconcerting.

I’ve been a Go Girl all my life. My first international trip was to Australia when I was seven. I’ve lived in three different countries. My kitchen is constantly producing dishes from around the world, and my mouth is constantly producing an equally diverse vocabulary. I’m functional or fluent in four languages and planning my fifth and sixth. You’d think, then, that I’d be a little more adaptable when it comes to the novelties of new areas. But Colorado…well, Colorado took me by surprise.

Where we live now is in the centre of the state, nestled in the eastern foothills of the Rockies (with, by the way, a spectacular view of Pikes Peak). When we were moving, we were excited by the bountiful hiking opportunities that this location would (and does) present to us. Upon our arrival, however, we were shocked by the broad expanse of prairie to the east, the bareness of the landscape, and the nose-achingly dry air. This was something we’d forgotten from all those science classes of our grade-school years: the effect that the Rocky Mountains have on eastern Colorado’s climate. Weather fronts coming from the west tend to dump most of their precipitation before or over the Rockies, so cities in the eastern part of the state- including Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs- get limited precipitation every year. The upside of this is that there’s an abundance of sunny days on this side of the mountains- up to 330 in some towns- but the downside is that most of the state’s population lives in a semi-arid climate. For anyone who’s ever read Dune or lived in a dry place, this is pretty meaningful. Every housing development that’s built, every additional person or pet or garden, puts an additional strain on already-thin water resources. As my sister-in-law tells us later, natural aquifers are so strapped that the amount of snow accumulation in the mountains- called the snowpack- is carefully monitored every winter to determine if there will be enough water to get residents through the summer.

All of this has been a huge adjustment for both of us. It rained with near-depressing frequency in Germany, and New Hampshire is famous for the hair-raising humidity of its summers. Montreal was under a constant deluge in May and October, and even Philadelphia  had its fair share of precipitation. Poor Nick, who spent two years in tropical climes on Okinawa, immediately developed a constant dry cough when we arrived. The static electricity we encounter is alarmingly strong- one shock we measured at 240 volts- and our skin feels scaly and itchy. Sometimes, it’s pure misery.

The plus side of living in a completely different climate than I’ve ever encountered before, however, is that it’s meant a whole new world to explore. It might be dry here, but that means that every hike we go on I find a new type of cactus on the side of the trail. I’ve never seen cacti growing in the wild like this! There are prairie dogs, a diversity of grasses, and incredible rock formations. Even more amazing to an outdoorsy Go Girl like me is how different hiking is here. Everywhere else I’ve lived, hiking a mountain means that the view happens at the top (or at treeline, whichever comes first). It’s a reward for the work you’ve put in to getting that high. But here in Colorado, the limited trees means that the view is present for the entire trip, and the reward is watching its metamorphosis as everything shrinks and the prairie expands. Once summer- and its blistering temperatures- arrives, our respite from the heat won’t be a rainstorm, but powerful winds that sweep along the front range.

Sometimes, the excitement of living in a new place (or simply visiting it) is watching yourself adapt not to local customs, but to local environments. There might be limited things to “do” in your new area, but the growth and discovery you undergo will be shaped by the literal world around you. Nick and I still discuss in facetious tones the miracle of water falling from the sky, of course, and I feel a little sad every time I happen upon my bathing suit in my dresser. Dryness in the air, though, has meant that fruit feels juicier. Tea is more refreshing. And sunrises over the prairie- not blocked by trees or buildings- are magical. Sometimes, a little climate change is a good thing.

Erica Laue
Erica first set foot on a plane when she was ten months old. 28 years, 18 countries, and four continents later, the travel bug’s still strong in her veins, and she's become increasingly engaged with issues of power, gender, sex, equality, and access around the world.

You may also like

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in All