A blazing inferno threatens my paradise on Earth: Lake Tahoe

나는t’s not the Ritz-Carlton. The remote cabin my family has rented in South Lake Tahoe for the past 10 years is small, buggy, mouse-infested and surrounded by dirt. There’s no turndown service – there’s not even cellphone or internet service. Amenities include a river, beavers that emerge at sundown and an overwhelming sense of peace.

Now our little piece of paradise is threatened by the massive Caldor fire as the entire Tahoe region becomes the latest flashpoint in the global climate crisis. Years of drought and rising temperatures have created California’s worst fire season on record. The images are horrific: giant walls of flames descending mountain sides. Orange skies. Homes scorched to ash. The entire town of South Lake Tahoe, which includes 22,000 year-round residents and many more summer visitors, has been evacuated.

Lake Tahoe – a 22-mile (35km), sapphire-blue lake nested in an emerald-green forest and ringed by soaring granite mountains – has been a favorite vacation spot for generations of American families, among them my own.

Our daughters were just three and five when we first brought them to Tahoe. They are city girls, and I wanted them to experience nature first-hand as I had during my Indiana childhood. Our house was perched on the edge of a woods, and my brother and I would disappear into this interstitial space of freedom to look for box turtles or build forts. I’ve returned to the solace of nature throughout my adulthood, and I wanted to introduce my children to this wellspring as well.

The former fishing cabin, built in the 1920s along the Upper Truckee River, fit the bill.

It is a place out of time, still furnished with the original Wedgewood stove and cooking utensils. Without the constant blare of the internet and social media, the days move slowly. Entertainment includes playing in the river, reading in a hammock, identifying flora using a field guide. We alternate between lazy beach days at Lake Tahoe and hiking days, following trails up mountains to snowpacks, flowering meadows or alpine lakes. 길을 따라, conversations happen. Connections happen.

It was on a beach day last year that we witnessed the arrival of what was – until then – California’s worst fire season on record. As we sat in an isolated cove at the south end of Lake Tahoe – our girls floating on their inflatable rafts in the famously clear water, my husband and I paging through magazines – I noticed what looked like a fog bank forming at the north end of the lake. Over the next hour it rolled toward us, growing taller and darker and obscuring the casinos in Stateline, Nevada, on the lake’s eastern side and billowing over the 9,000ft peaks on the western side. Then we caught a whiff of smoke. By the time we packed up our car, the world was sepia-toned.

The smoke was from the Loyalton fire, sparked by lightning in the Sierra backcountry – one of 거의 10,000 wildfires reported in California in 2020 which burned an unprecedented 4.2m acres. We cut our vacation short and drove home through a fire-ravaged landscape, at one point passing vegetation still burning in the highway’s median strip. Our relief at coming home to clean air was short-lived, 하나; a few weeks later we woke to an eerie, blood-orange sky and ash falling on the trampoline as the smoke from multiple conflagrations raging across the state converged over the Bay Area. Crickets chirped in the noon darkness; it felt like the end of the world.

올해, I didn’t hesitate to book the cabin again. I assumed 2020’s wildfires were an exception. I was wrong. 의 위에 4 칠월, lightning sparked a fire just 24 miles away from South Lake Tahoe and as nearby towns evacuated, I reluctantly cancelled our reservation and planned a last-minute road trip to southern California instead.

That fire, the Tamarack fire, is still burning today, two months later. But now there’s an even worse peril: the Caldor fire, 어느, for the first time in reported history, jumped over the high granite peaks of the Sierra Nevada and entered the Tahoe Basin.

Back home, smoke has once again reached the Bay Area, elevating pollution levels. I’ve retrieved our air purifiers from the garage. I’ve obsessively tracked the fire’s voracious progress online, anxiety burning my stomach as I find photos of familiar mountainsides and cabins devoured in orange flames. This year’s conflagrations have already burned more acreage than last year’s fires. 수요일에, for the first time in history, the US Forest Service closed all national forests in the state to try to thwart more infernos.

As I scroll through the hundreds of photos we’ve taken in Tahoe over the past 10 연령, my throat wells with sorrow. My phone’s screensaver is a clip of my daughters chatting as they hike down our favorite trail on a blue-sky day. I worry that those blue-sky days are numbered.

The thing I love most about the buggy little cabin – its off-the-grid, deep-forest isolation – is now a dangerous liability. Without cellphone service or internet, how will we know if a fire is racing in our direction? After an emotional discussion, my husband and I decided it’s just too risky to spend more summers there. I feel the loss viscerally, like Eve being cast out of Eden. Although it’s just a rental, the cabin is an integral part of our family history.

I’ve made one last reservation, for a weekend in mid-October, to say goodbye. At that time of year, the quaking aspens alongside the river normally turn a buttery yellow and I like to sit under them with my morning coffee, mesmerized by their cheery shimmer.

“Normal” is now a relative term, 물론이야. I don’t know whether the 100-year-old cabin will still be standing next month, or if it, 너무, will be reduced to ash – a grim warning of an apocalyptic future.

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