This report was made possible in part by the Fund for Environmental Journalism of the Society of Environmental Journalists. 

As a kid, Lauren Lydick would pack up a towel, a Harry Potter book, and head out alone into the bamboo groves. As a teenager, she took a blanket, War & Peace, and weed. Sometimes reading, sometimes just lying on her back looking up through the green, Lydick felt like she could be anywhere. Thailand, maybe, or Malaysia. It’s said that in rural parts of Japan, parents tell their children, “If you feel an earthquake, run into the bamboo. Its roots will hold the earth together for you.” Lydick felt that sense of protection somehow, even though she lived in Imperial County, California, one of the hottest, most polluted places in North America. And even though there was no escaping her easily-triggered, asthmatic chest.

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