Sunday morning, September 21, Rita Renee Toll-Dubois and her lifelong partner Ranger Jean Rogers of Lynn, quietly boarded one of the many Cambridge buses heading to the People’s Climate Change March in New York City. Toll-Dubois carried a placard made from a simple piece of undecorated white cardboard paper — one that wouldn’t normally grab your attention until you read it.
“The water has risen.
Tidal River overflows knee-deep up to 1 1/2 block away.
Just 10 miles north of downtown Boston, residents of seacoast Lynn have been feeling the effects of climate change for well over a decade.
“In the past 10 years, we have already had two ’11-year’ floods, the first of which ruined numerous cellars of many of our neighbors. The water was up to a car’s door handle as we could see from the car that was caught in the rising waters,” Toll-Dubois told me.
Heavy rains in Lynn saturate the soil, flood storm drains that flood the city streets. But the city of Lynn is not alone.
Coastal cities like New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Boston are just a few of the many Northeast cities now experiencing the violent vicissitudes of global climate change with its increasing rainfall, and coastal flooding.
Toll-Dubois and Rogers “live a block and a vacant field from the river.” As shorelines sink and cause sea levels to rise, they worry about their flood insurance — with premiums that have spiked several times since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — and their safety, too.
“This past winter, when a high tide and a storm surge combined, the river overflowed its banks and as the ground was frozen and therefore could absorb no water, the river flooded all the way down the block and into the main street in front of our house so we were encircled by knee-deep icy river water,” Toll-Dubois carefully explained.
Boston’s revered New England Aquarium and its tourist hot spots — Public Garden, John Hancock Tower, Quincy Market, Copley Church and Faneuil Hall, to name a few — are not out of harms way. These landmarks are all built landmasses and areas highly susceptible to flooding, too.
Just last month, on September 6, Ipswich — a coastal town just 29 miles north of Boston — experienced a microburst, a sudden, powerful and intense downdraft. The microburst knocked down trees, tore off roofs, and downed power lines. Two women were critically injured after being struck by lightning at Crane Beach. Coastal towns like Lynn, Salem, Beverly, and Gloucester were just few of the many coastal cities in the pathway of the storm leaving residents devastated by its aftermath.
“A microburst tornado blew through our neighborhood and gathered force as it traveled the three miles across the salt marsh, ripping off roofs when it reached shore before heading into Revere and causing much damage. This is unprecedented. We have both lived in Massachusetts our entire lives, Jean on the North Shore and never has a tornado hit. It was scary. Wind like we have never seen and so quickly arriving,” Toll-Dubois recounted in disbelief.
Fresh Pond is my oasis and quick go-to-place for a stroll in nature. It houses the Cambridge Water Department on a beautiful expanse of land with a kettle hole lake, a nine-hole golf course, trails for walkers, runners and cyclists. It’s a dog’s paradise and a kid’s outdoor classroom on nature.
Jean Rogers is an arboriculturist and Chief Ranger at Fresh Pond. For 20 plus years she’s been the Fresh Pond community’s beloved park ranger. She welcomes visitors to stop by her station and pose questions. Ranger Jean gives eco-tours and lectures to school age children at Fresh Pond and neighboring schools. She explains how to protect the environment, and minimize damage to it by providing students hands-on opportunities, like her annual clean-up mission trips to Fresh Pond.
“[The clean-up] involves spreading wood chips on the paths and removing Buckthorn, an invasive species, from the wooded areas.” With excitement in his voice sixth grader Muhammed Abdallah explained his class trip like this: “The day was cold, but it was hard work pushing a wheel barrow up the hill, and we warmed up fast.”
The cold day Abdallah experienced on his class trip is becoming rarer. Rogers says The New England Climate Coalition reports the increase in temperature will have a profound impact on the resplendent autumn foliage New England is known for as trees migrate north or die out. The maple saps we Fresh Ponders have come accustomed to seeing will decrease, Rogers explains, because increasing temps impact maple syrup production. Good production needs warm days and freezing nights in order for sap to flow.
“The climate has changed. Now we have to work together to survive the mega storms, the floods, the droughts, and the wildfires. We will soon have more internal refugees in our country moving inland from the coasts. We all may be one of them. ”
Working together on social justice issues has always be integral to both Toll-Dubois and Rogers’ life work, identity and union, which is why they marched with”Old Lesbians Working For Change,”a national network of lesbians over age 60 working to make life better for themselves and the world.
Understanding the interconnections and interdependence needed for a healthy planet to live and the global and collective work needed to fix the damage done is not just their backyard issue, but rather an LGBTQ one, too.
At the march Rogers carried a placard that was equally as unremarkable as her partner’s, but like Toll-Dubois’s her message it was just as profound.
“We are not alone.”