A Climate Story by Jessica Lind Peterson, author, playwright, theater artist, and co-founder of Yellow Tree Theatre in Osseo, MN. Jessica shares her love of the natural world around her home in Canyon, Minnesota, observes dramatic changes in weather patterns and the native forests, and discusses her emotional responses to the climate crisis and ways to adapt.
My name is Jessica Lind Peterson and I currently live in Northeastern Minnesota in a small township called Canyon on the shores of a beautiful little lake. I live with my family in a single wide trailer on six acres of forest, wetland and swamp. I spent my childhood summers in this area and recently relocated here from the Twin Cities at the start of the pandemic. The forests are filled with black spruce, soaring red pine, balsam fir, clusters of birch and velvety swaths of tamarack; it is truly an embarrassment of riches. The air here even smells green. I grew up not far from here in Duluth, on the shores of Lake Superior, and so I am conditioned for extreme weather. Extreme cold. Extreme amounts of snow. And while things up North here are still extreme, it feels different now. There’s a weird edge to each season that feels unfamiliar. Lakes freeze later. And thaw earlier. Birds fly back sooner. Instead of steady rainfall in the spring and summer, we are seeing fewer, more devastating storms, with intense rainfall.
Two weeks ago, I sent my small son outside to shut the chicken coop as a storm rolled in. Just as he closed the door to the coop, hail the size of tangerines pelted down. The wind was like a god blowing everything sideways. Giant red pines bowed down and snapped in the middle like matchsticks. It only took eight minutes. The aftermath was chaos. As my husband and I wandered around the lake surveying the damage, the consensus from our neighbors was the same. They’d never seen anything like this. A familiar sentiment these days.
Northern Minnesota has warmed more than twice as much as southern Minnesota. The fishing here has changed. Warming water is killing walleye and trout. Some lakes have resorted to banning walleye fishing for a season here and there, which has had a devastating effect on local businesses. Many lakes are full of algae blooms. Which is ugly and suffocates the fish by sucking up oxygen in the water. I often see dead fish floating along my shoreline. Yesterday, a baby duck. I don’t know if they are dead because of the warming water, due to climate change. But I do know that normally, when animals die around here, it’s because another animal was hungry.
As majestic as the forests here still are, I have noticed they’ve changed. Up North, acres upon acres of birch and balsam fir are dying rapidly. Invasive beetles are getting too cozy. The winters no longer cold enough to kill them off. Some landowners are cutting down their healthy balsams, in preparation for what’s coming.
After all the harm we have done, I have a hard time being optimistic. I feel responsible. And sad. And anxious for the future. It doesn’t seem our leaders care that we are killing the very planet that sustains us. I don’t know what could be more important than saving it.