The heat dome was a final warning
Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people, to give them hope, but I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.
Greta Thunberg, young Swedish Activist
On the days of the June, 2021, lethal heat dome, I was in Olympia, Washington, located 60 miles south of Seattle. Seattle, as everyone knows, is the only city in the state. I am a weather forecast freak – I check all the time to see how I’ll need to navigate the world and so I saw it predicted. But I grew up in Missouri where our understanding of crushing heat was intimate. So, I really thought I could get through it, despite no air conditioning and, as it turned out, no fan. I had lots of Gatorade and such and knew all the survival tricks. I was nervous, but I have pets. I couldn’t have left anyway and abandoned them to hell. So, I dug into my stash of personal strength and braced for it.
Friday started easy because even at the worst of it, it cooled off at night as it usually does. I lay still in bed, moving as little as I could as the air grew dense and weighed down on my body like a thick, burning hot blanket. It was pretty rough but staying quiet, hydrated, and sleeping a lot had always gotten me through and it did this time, too.
Saturday dawned in a tolerable manner; the cool of the night made the morning quite lovely. I deluded myself into thinking I could do this. I froze blocks of ice for my pets to lick. They were melted within half an hour. We all went very still. I had never been so hot. The air was so thick that it took effort to draw it into my lungs. I took a tepid shower that night and prayed to the universe that, with my slight overuse of a prescription muscle relaxant and lots of hydration, I wouldn’t get any cramps.
Sunday was pleasant in the front of my house where it stays shady all morning. I thought I had better try to water things while I could and early was better, so I ventured forth, peering out my front door, only to see Mami, the raccoon who lives on this land and eats all my leftover bread crusts – we have a working relationship, Mami and I. I saw her first, then I saw what she was carrying – the limp body of her baby. She looked at me pleadingly and set the baby down while my heart sank.
“Oh no, honey,” I told her. “I can’t fix this, baby. I can’t. I’m so sorry. But if you leave him, I’ll tuck him into the sweet earth to rest.”
For a moment, our gazes held, hers with despair and mine with regret. Sorry I wasn’t braver. Sorry I couldn’t risk trusting her. Sorry I couldn’t save her beautiful, precious baby. Had the heat killed her little one? The road? He didn’t look as if anything had hit him. I apologized again and went back in saying “if you leave him, I will take care of him,” but when I returned, they were both gone.
I went back in and began my critter chores, giving the dogs some time in their big back yard, monitoring the temperature minute by minute as I watered the plants. And minute by minute, the temperature tore toward its terrifying finish line. I brought the dogs back inside.
And still the temperature rose. Until I was sweating faster than I could rehydrate. Until there was no air to draw in. Until I felt my pulse pounding in my ears and scalp. Until I frantically set my pets up the best I could, jumped into a cooling shower so I could survive the trip to the front yard and the blast furnace that my car would be. I sobbed the entire way to the car and howled at the incalculable heat within it, feeling like a monster for leaving but knowing with gut deep certainty that to stay was to die.
I am still absolutely certain that if I had stayed, I would have died.
It was 105 when I left my house, located in the middle of a swale – a declivity – near a year-round creek that keeps it a hair cooler here. A mile down the round, it was 107. A little farther, 108. By the time I arrived, it was 109 degrees. I parked, grabbed my art supplies out of the back, and staggered toward Barnes and Noble. A mom and little girl had just emerged; the child immediately began to wail in anguish. I wanted to weep along with her
When I got inside, I told the café staff that I would not be honoring the little signs requesting a 30 minute limit at their tables. I perched there, creating a detailed drawing to keep my focus off the climate apocalypse outside the windows, from a little after 2 pm until they closed at 9. By closing, it had gone from 109 to 84 with a sweet, cool breeze. It felt like a blessing. It felt like reprieve. It felt all too damned temporary and utterly uncertain. The world that had nurtured my life for 65 years was no longer a place I could trust – even the illusion (delusion) thereof.
When I returned home, my pets were all fine, but the tiny sugar ants that are a plague on my house are nearly gone.
We’ve known this was coming for decades and fought facing it – let alone dealing with it – the entire time. The earth sighed in pain and we called it the breeze. It moaned in misery and we ignored its every attempt to reach us. Well now the planet is just over us and from here, it’s going to be a slugfest of pure misery unless we get organized, get our priorities straight and do it NOW. Not in a year. Not in 10 years. No “we’ll have this in place by 2050.” We won’t make it another 30 years at this rate – and remember that every disaster happens way faster than the ephemeral “they” predict because they’ve been instructed not to panic the sheep.
It’s time to panic now, folks, but we must use that panic – that absolute terror – to fuel a concerted, disciplined, focused effort that deals with realities and spends not one moment pandering to people so terrified that they think ignoring it will make it go away. This monster is under our beds right now and this time we aren’t imagining it.
It’s do or die time, people, with the emphasis on “die” if we don’t.