At twenty-two years old, Ashlee is in her last year of her undergrad at the University of Victoria, ready for the next steps of her career in professional writing and journalism.
It’s a future a younger Ashlee would have never imagined. Curled up in the lime green bedroom of her family home with a book, Ashlee saw herself writing fiction instead, often making up stories in her spare time. Yet, when given the chance to try creative non-fiction writing at UVic, Ashlee fell in love with writing memoirs, as well as “interviewing people and telling other people’s stories.”
Hailing from Okotoks, Alberta, Ashlee was the eldest sister by five and a half years. As a thirteen year old growing up in a small town, she found the best way to have fun was hanging out with her friends, walking around Walmart, and watching television. By the age of thirteen, Ashlee had met her best friend, who would eventually convince her to do her undergrad at UVic.
When the nearby town of High River flooded, it was one of the last weeks of school. The ninth graders were preparing for their end-of-middle school celebration. Everyone around her buzzed with excitement about school nearing the end of the year. But on the ball diamond during PE class, Ashlee overheard two teachers talking amongst themselves about the flooding.
Okotoks, Canada - That was the first thing that I heard. In my next class, we were listening to the radio and heard one of those emergency alerts. They were talking about how there was a flash flood happening in High River, which was the town next to us. By last period, they had put the whole school on hold and secure. Kids were being called down to the office and pulled out of school because their parents were coming to get them. We were all sitting in the classroom. The teacher was trying to teach but there was too much going on. Then we got sent home early.
We were one of those households where the news is just constantly on in the background. I was watching all these homes get flooded, and these crazy high floodwaters and stuff. They said that the army was going to be called in, to help evacuate people.
It was kind of weirdly exciting as a thirteen year old who lives in a tiny town. It was the first time where I was like, "Oh, something like this can happen to anyone. This can happen in my community.” It's not something that I just see on the news about faraway cities that I've never been to.
After things had settled down before everything was rebuilt, we drove through High River. The town had flooded before. Seeing the damage was shocking, because they probably were expecting something similar to the last one. This one was much, much worse. It was on a much bigger scale.
Okotoks did flood as well. There was this park that we used to go to that was right by the river. It had a red and yellow twisty slide that I remember if you went down it it would shock you, so I was scared of it. I remember driving over the bridge that overlooked it. You wouldn't even know there was a park there unless you'd seen it before. Literally the park that was my favourite park to go to as a child was completely underwater. The river was much bigger than it had been before. It's usually a pretty small, calm river. We used to tube down it as kids. The water was a lot dirtier than it usually was. It was completely brown.
At that point I couldn't imagine it going back to normal either. There was just so much water I couldn't even wrap my head around where the water was going to go. I don't understand what the science is or comprehend how the water levels would go down.
They built the park again and made it look the exact same for some reason. I thought we were going to get a whole new one, but it is literally the exact same. I think it's flooded multiple times at this point. They just keep rebuilding it and putting the exact same slide in, which is kind of funny.
I know my dad would always say something like "You know it's called High River for a reason." I don't think it was supposed to be really funny. It just meant it felt inevitable to him. He wasn't too worried about it. It was comforting. It wasn't like our house was ever in danger of flooding. Because it was sort of distant from us.
I think probably my parents should have sat me down and made sure I was okay emotionally. I don't think they really thought about the fact that witnessing the whole thing could have made me very anxious or change the way that I felt about our community or about disasters. They probably should have at least talked to me about it. Even if you're not experiencing it firsthand, and physically, losing your home or losing things or getting hurt because of it, I think it is still scary to witness.
At the time, I don't know if I would have been super aware of what climate change was, at least not in the same way that I am now. It was something we learned about. We learned about greenhouse gases and how that worked. But it was portrayed as something that our grandkids would have to worry about. It wasn't something that I ever thought I would literally experience and feel in any sort of tangible way. But looking back on it, that's the first natural disaster that I remember witnessing. Now it seems like there are so many and that they're happening more frequently, so it's a turning point for me.
I think acknowledging the link between climate change and these disasters is really going to make people look at climate change differently and realize how urgent it is. It helps people understand the very real and personal consequences, and they ultimately have a better understanding of the situation.
by Ashlee Levy as told to Kristen de Jager (edited by Sean Holman)