Corey’s Climate Story
Bozeman, Montana 59715
How are you sensing climate change?
When I traveled to Bozeman, Montana from Wisconsin for my student exchange program in the fall of 2020, I experienced the side effects of climate change in a very up close way. On September 4th, a fire started in the foothills of the Bridger mountain range, which was only about 2 or3 miles out of town. The fire started from a lightning strike, but was able to spread 8,000 acres due to the high heat and dry conditions. I was able to watch the fire burn, and the fire fighting planes and helicopters make passes from my third story bedroom window, and the flames cast a glow at night in the days that passed. While watching the fire was the first way I sensed climate change in Bozeman, it would not be the last.
It was the height of the pandemic, so masks had become commonplace indoors. However, during my time in Bozeman, I had to wear masks outdoors as well. The particulate matter from smoke was so high that being outdoors for extended periods of time was dangerous to lung health. This was not only from the fire in Bozeman, but due to some extreme wildfires that were occurring on the western coast at that time. The smoke would hang around for days, clouding the view so much so that the mountains became invisible. Relief would come in the form of a rare day of rain. However, while the fires went on in the west, the smoke did not subside for longer than a day.
Finally, I was able to sense climate change by actually visiting the site of the fires. The professor for the wildlife management course I was enrolled in took our class into the heart of where the Bridger fire was for a very depressing field trip. Our first stop observed the ash that was clouding the stream that flowed down the mountainside. Here, leaves were singed and ash coated bark, but there was still signs of life. However, our second stop brought us to a home which was burned in the fire, and the surrounding forest. Here, there was no life. No birds, no insects. The bark of the trees gave way to my hand when I touched them, disintegrating into a fine black powder.
How do these changes make you feel?
These events made me feel very small. In Wisconsin, climate change affects nature in subtle ways. A little less snow every year, the ice melts on the lake a few days earlier, the winds are colder, the summers are hotter. Therefore, I was not used to the in your face changes that those who live in more susceptible areas deal with. While the fire was on the side of the mountain that faced town, I sat and watched it for hours. While I was aware of climate change, wildfires, and other disasters, I had never quite felt the level of helplessness that I did when I watched the Bridger range burn.
The small feeling also came with the smoke. Here I was, hundreds of miles away from these fires, yet my quality of life declined from them. Once again, I am aware of the suffering that people experience from climate change, typically through no fault of their own. However, living in Montana was the first time that this had happened to me. While wearing a mask outside and limiting outdoor activities is not much in the way of suffering, I do think that it raised my awareness to the impacts these events can have.
These changes also made me feel sad, although I imagine my feelings were nothing compared to those who lost their homes, or even had lived in the area for a while. To see the familiar face of a mountain scarred would almost be traumatizing.
Finally, the wildfires made me appreciative. When the smoke cleared for the last time, I cherished the view of the mountains and the blue skies everyday. I must have taken thousands of photos of the same mountain, from the same places. It also made me appreciate the safety of my home, and the safety of where I live. I also appreciated my support network, for I knew that if I did lose something to the fire, I would be supported.
Bozeman, Montana 59715
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