Last Saturday we hosted a tailgate party before the USU-Stony Brook football game. The only people without gray hair had no hair at all. Things have changed since we sat in the bleachers of that old stadium where multi-story buildings now stand. We yelled and watched Merlin Olsen and his compadres run roughshod over any team unfortunate enough to come to Logan.
Once snowfall was so heavy all marker lines on the field were covered. When a team got near the end zone, officials tramped a line in the snow that had to be crossed for a touchdown. I huddled under my old Army overcoat while half a foot of new snow stacked up on my Stetson. My Army-issue mittens made it difficult to open my Thermos of hot coffee.
Fifty-eight years later, some of USU’s older fans followed the shade in our back yard as a blazing sun moved across the sky. No one wore gloves. Short pants replaced overcoats. Cold cervesa was the drink of choice. Watermelon, fresh peaches and vegetables from local gardens graced the table.
Younger folk find it hard to believe that overcoat pockets filled with bottles smuggled from Wyoming were once standard at Aggie football games. They think Romney Stadium was always hot, fans wore short-shorts, exposed skin and smelled of sunscreen. Some believe global warming is a myth. Climate change does not occur in Happy Valley. And if it does, it’s God’s will.
I spent my early years in Utah (1959-1962) teaching forestry summer camp and doing grazing experiments on mountain rangelands. As part of my employment, I was available as a firefighter. Only once was I called. Lightening ignited a single tree, but the fire did not spread. Land around it was barren and heavily grazed. Utah mountains were referred to as asbestos forests.
Early this September, Utah officials were tracking eight active fires in our state. Six of them were larger than 1,000 acres. Some of these were accidental fires near housing developments. Residents had to leave. Several homes were lost.
Unwanted fires are not just a Utah problem, or even a national problem. Pictures of huge South American fires fill our television screens. Over 50,000 fires have been set in the Brazilian Amazon this year. An estimated 7,000 square miles of forest are currently burning. About 2,800 square miles have been put to the torch in neighboring Bolivia. Large, unwanted forest fires occur on every continent.
Whether fires are in Australia, Europe, Asia or California. Their smoke affects our little valley and similar places the world over. A major difference is that drainage outlets on ours are higher than much of the floor, putting us in a bowl. The bad stuff we put in our bowl — residue from automobiles, heating furnaces and manufacturing equipment for instance — stays here for days at a time.
For the last century and a half, people living in valleys like ours have tried to solve environmental problems by draining their valley. Most schemes failed. Even if local folks had been successful in draining Cache Valley, we would have only moved our polluted stuff to other parts of our world.
Temperatures have increased. Ice near the polls is melting. Oceans are rising. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and other coral populations are dying. Ocean storms are destroying ancient cities and complete islands. Forests are burning all over the world. Global system changes are fairly well documented. Our local ones are not.
I have lived through changes in Cache Valley over the past half century. We lived in River Heights in the early 1970s. Each winter we had to remove 4 to 6 feet of snow off our roof. Temperatures below zero lasted for weeks at a time. The temperature dropped below minus 15 several times a year, freezing pipes we thought were freeze proof. By the 1990s, we seldom had a temperature below minus 10 and frozen pipes were a thing of the past.
We moved to our West Center Street house in 1996. We have never had a pipe frozen here, but snow stacked up 2 or 3 feet deep during the winter. I tried shoveling it the first year. The next year I bought a small snowblower. In 1999 I purchased a big self propelled snow removal machine and cleared sidewalks around our neighborhood. Each year I used it less.
Three years ago I used my machine to clear sidewalks about a dozen times. Two years ago I used it about half that much. Last year I prepped my machine and got it ready for winter work. I used it once to remove about 6 inches of new snow. I never used it again.
This year I’ll have it ready, but if the climatic event of last Sunday is an indication, I probably won’t need it.
About 6 p.m. we were preparing to go to our children’s house for supper. A cloud appeared from the west. It dropped about half an inch of rain laced with small hailstones in 20 minutes. Center Street was filled with water. Strong wind from the west pushed waves upstream against the current.
It looked like water was running uphill. I’ve never before seen anything like it in this valley. If climate change is a myth and global warming isn’t happening, some unknown power must have a reason to punish us Cache Valley folks.