On the day when world leaders adopted the Glasgow Climate Pact, I hiked trails in balmy weather under blue skies wearing a T-shirt. I wondered whether it was significant that we hadn’t seen real snowfall in Salida by Halloween this year. 

After my hike, I stopped in a local restaurant. The principle of six degrees of separation kicked in minutes later. I learned that the gentleman seated next to me had attended the same elementary and middle schools that I did in New Orleans. He and his wife were pulling up roots there and settling in Salida. Hurricane Ida, which made landfall on Aug. 29, the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, did it for them. 

“Can you imagine if that storm had hit New Orleans directly?” he said and looked down into his drink.

Yes, I sure can. For this reason, the diaspora of coastal people to the Mountain West is real.

Chaffee County’s population is projected to grow to 22,929 by 2030, representing an increase of nearly 2,500 from 2020’s projected population of 20,450. Chaffee must add nearly 1,000 homes to meet this projected growth. 

There’s something about this energy of migration that fills with me a kind of wanderlust. 

With property values here through the roof and construction creeping in each direction, I reflect on making my own move. Have I stayed at the party too long?

I admit, I sometimes dream of going against the traffic toward the coast. I cling to the fantasy of living in both Salida and New Orleans, complementary forces from each place that stoke polar parts of me. 

But climate-change signs are unmistakable in New Orleans, making it a bad bet. In summer 2019, I stood on the levee with the Mississippi River on one side and the city on the other. The river was swollen toward the top of the levee, higher than the city, higher than I’ve ever seen in July, smack dab in prime-time hurricane season. My hometown was more vulnerable. And precious.

Considering a move back to the city, my rational side prioritizes science. My whimsical side, though, wants to love up New Orleans in its watery glory to its very end. 

For now, I ping-pong. Hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico? Glad to be in Salida. No snow to ski? Nice to walk under canopies of live oaks in the Deep South. 

A week after Ida hit, friends and family members returned to the aftermath. At the time, I was volunteering at the Telluride Film Festival, my adult summer camp. I straddled one world with art, glitterati and glamor, and another without basic services or infrastructure. While assisting an Oscar-winning actress, my phone buzzed with news of the double threat: no power, no water.

While chatting with a filmmaker, my people left messages about ripped-away roofs, trees smashed through attics and spiderwebs of power lines. The heat was sweltering. One friend siphoned gas from his lawnmower and chainsaw to fill his tank to drive to Galveston, as his job moved there overnight. 

Films couldn’t distract me from these images. 

Grand Isle, a critical barrier island called a chenier, a sandy beach ridge with some remaining oaks, was obliterated. While there in June, I saw features in small bays and coastlines slightly off, nuanced, shifted to rest in new places. Landmarks had moved and changed. 

Imagine noticing the Sawatch Range altered in some way. Summits of the Collegiate Peaks more rounded with points of orientation gone.

As a child, we’d load into our station wagon for Grand Isle. My dad said we were going to the end of the world, where the road meets the gulf. We swam, crabbed during incoming tides and found washed-up treasures from faraway places. Buoys, glass, dolls, shoes and wooden boxes with writing in foreign languages. I made up stories for my siblings from these things. 

After Ida, New Orleanians removed downed trees, extracted parts of neighbors’ homes from their yards and mopped. They rejoiced when air conditioning turned on, water ran through faucets and trash pickup returned. Some got back to it all, while others planned their getaway.

When climate change is in your face, it’s easier to take action. It’s something else when signs are faint, unclear or even as pleasant as a hike on a bright, mild day, eerily late in the season. 

My mom remembers icicles in New Orleans when she was young. I don’t. But here, I’ll remember the snowfall we got before Halloween. 

Salida resident Ann Marie Swan is a freelance writer and editor and a veteran of daily newspapers, including the Rocky Mountain News.