Hope in an unstable climate

[High Country News] We hiked past scrub oak and sumac, a wild bees’ nest humming in the peppertrees along the trail. The air hung heavy with the scent of sage, the purple salvia just starting to bloom. The rock-studded dirt path turned a sharp corner, and the water tower came into view. The tank was brimming, surrounded by spring grasses lush from the generous winter rains. I felt a brief surge of hope, but then remembered — hope is a dangerous emotion in this climate.
When I’d driven through town eight months earlier, I was struck by how perfect it seemed: a hamlet full of parks and citrus groves, surrounded by national forest. Towering oak trees lined the streets, evidence of a historically consistent water source. In the shadow of the Topatopa Mountains, the town bells chimed on the hour, a reminder of just how quickly time passes.
We were ready to start a family, ready to exchange the damp bustle and crowds of Seattle for the peace and community of a small town. I looked around, ticking off items on my dream-town checklist: good food, sunshine, a day’s drive from my parents. I convinced my husband to abandon friends we’d spent the last decade making and the house we’d restored room by room. I had, I assured him, found the perfect place to spend the next chapter of our lives.
Jobs were applied for and miraculously acquired. I took a pregnancy test confirming that, yes, the hoped-for family would be arriving soon. Only as the move drew closer did we began to wonder: Is there enough water to support life there?
There must be, we told ourselves. I grew up in California, my childhood filled with reminders to turn off faucets and let lawns go yellow. Water was scarce, water was precious, but there was always enough.
We rented a house while ogling For Sale signs, thinking about school districts and fenced backyards for the first time. Realtors urged us to buy something soon, because homes were selling for more than they had ever seen. Outsiders were falling in love with the area for the same reasons we had, snatching up every cottage and starter home that came on the market. Yet when the woman from the water company came to read the meter on our rental, we got to talking about all the newcomers. “We keep telling people to get out of town,” she sighed, shaking her head. “But they just keep buying houses.” Read More

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