When the latest extreme weather hit California last month — this time it was massive flooding along the San Francisco Bay Area’s Russian River — the conversation turned once again to climate change. With the Earth’s temperature projected to rise by at least 1.5°C by 2030, is this a preview of what’s to come? For people with deep family connections to places overrun by extreme weather, that question hits especially close to home.
YR Media’s Mila De La Torre has grown up going to the Russian River and reflects on what it’s like to watch this place succumb to floods.
In late February, water levels of the Russian River rose to over 45 feet, causing the Northern California town of Guerneville to “turn into an island,” forcing people to evacuate. Residents have been canoeing their way through town and wading in thigh-deep water. These floods are damaging so many people’s lives.
Seeing all the photos and videos horrified me. The Russian River holds a very special place in my heart and in the hearts of my family members.
My first memory of the Russian River was when I was 8 years old. My parents got married in Anderson Hall at Camp Meeker. I remember the ceremony. Two of my mom’s best friends performed live music as my parents danced. My grandma performed a Filipino veil ceremony. Their wedding cake was made of cheese, which my mom and stepdad found hilarious.
That moment in our lives symbolized growth and the melding together of our family. The Russian River has always been linked with those sentimental memories. With every trip, this region became more and more significant to our family. It was as though the river had watched us year after year as we grew.
Almost 10 years later, in our most recent trip last August, we celebrated my mom’s birthday. The house we rented was filled to the brim with our extended family and dearest friends. Every day we’d all walk to the beach with floaties around our waists and towels around our necks and spend all day laying in the sun and swinging from the tire swing. When nighttime came, we sat in the backyard and grilled food, talked, and took turns attempting to play guitar.
We were all so sad to go back home and leave behind an area that gave us so much peace and joy. Watching the damage in these past days is like watching all those memories wash away.