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Abigail B. Calkin

A Blog of Personal Thoughts

The Heat and the Dry

July 2021

The heat and the dry. Summer hot. Summer dry. Extra hot. Extra dry. Not a normal summer anywhere west of the Rockies. Not a normal decade here. From Mexico to Alaska. We are dry in Lake County, Oregon. By the end of May this year, most of the lakes are already dry and that’s very early. I’ve seen Summer Lake so full that its water crossed the highway. Now I can see its damp lakebed if I look to its shores on the far eastern side. Otherwise, its lakebed has dried and cracked. Fifty miles to the south, what were once Goose Lake’s edges are now grasslands for range or hay. That means those areas have been dry for decades.

Anyone who has not been to eastern Oregon will tell you the state is rainy and damp. True west of the Cascades, it is certainly not true of the eastern part of the state. I am in Oregon at 5,000 feet in the Oregon Outback in high mountain desert country. The other day the humidity was 24% and the temperature 100. There is another taller town, Greenhorn at 6,300 feet, but it has had zero, yes 0, population since at least the 1970 census. Is it still an incorporated town if it has had no one living there for at least 50 years? I think not.

Last year we spent eight to nine months here, from early March through November. When the temperature hit 90 in July, I was ready to bite the bullet and return to Alaska mid-COVID. My husband went to search out swamp coolers and came home twenty minutes later with an air conditioner. I think he wanted me to stay. The AC cools the second floor and the basement furnace fan the first floor.

Last year smoke from the Oregon and California forest fires began in mid-August. This year it was in June. The mountains on either side of the valley are about 12 miles apart. June 30 we took a drive across the valley, but when in the middle, we couldn’t see the mountains on either side due to smoke. So far, all the Oregon forest fires are small, not even classified as fires.

Why am I worried about this? It has nothing to do with the house we own here, the one that’s been in the family since 1957, the one my husband grew up in. The one our son considers his childhood home. This is the home furnished mostly by antiques from my family that I inherited, decorated by many paintings my first husband did and many of which have been in art gallery or museum shows. If the house burned, there is one item I’d want to save—not all the photo albums, not the 1700s furniture, not the rugs. No it’s one painting my first husband, Edwin Koch, did of me. Why this instead of all the other things? Because he did it in an hour and a half and the white canvas you see is just that, white canvas with no paint on it.

 Waiting for laundry to finish—two parents, two children, two books.

Maybe I’d also decide to save the commencement gown my great-grandmother made for my grandfather when he graduated from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia around 1890. When I think of all the other objects in the house, my thoughts shift to the hills and terrain I see here. Oregon is a state formed from the ocean by volcanoes. Some tectonic action also helped form part of Oregon 130 million years ago, but the volcanoes and the Cascades came 15 million years ago. No matter where I go, the Cascades or this southeastern corner of Oregon, I see volcanic rock—obsidian, the pockmarked kind with its little holes, pumice, basalt, geodes, so many more.

If I don’t worry about my house, or your house, what do I worry about?

This is what I worry about, our planet and the water and soil on top of it. I worry about the 4 million dead worldwide from COVID. I’m concerned about the 50 million who died from the H1N1 virus, the one called at the time the Spanish flu.

I am concerned about the trickle of water than flows through this stream.

A stream that runs through town.

A stream that runs through town.

I am concerned about the lack of water in Goose Lake and every other lake in the county and world. The Caspian Sea is not even fishable anymore. Derelict boats now line its banks. The lake in this picture, though, is where my husband’s grandmother arrived in the United States for her new home with her new husband. She had come up from San Francisco and taken the steamboat the length of Goose Lake. Anyone today would be lucky to paddle that 42-mile lake.

Goose Lake, Oregon and California. Picture from Oregon end on 29 June 2021.

Goose Lake, Oregon and California. Picture from Oregon end on 29 June 2021.

I am concerned about the next day when forest fires haze our skies and landscapes. Last year it started in August, about six weeks later than this year.

Camas Valley in the haze of probably California smoke, 30 June 2021.

Camas Valley in the haze of probably California smoke, 30 June 2021.

There were times last year when we had to decide not to go for a walk because it was too smokey and the air quality very bad. Then I was concerned about my sister-in-law and others west of the Cascades who couldn’t even see 100 feet to the end of the driveway.

What are we doing to ourselves that we allow lakes to dry up? What are we doing to ourselves to cause mass migrations around the planet because people don’t have enough to eat, to drink, or safety to live? Have we reached the point of too many people? Have we reached the point of too much fossil fuel?

I continue to remember the Saudi astronaut, Prince Sultan bin Salman, the first Saudi, the first Muslim, and at that time 28 and the youngest astronaut, who said

“The first day or so we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day, we were aware of only one Earth,” he said. (from

Remember that. We have only one Earth and we must remain aware of it. We must be its caretakers, and preserve it.


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