Now for the repeated warnings. A small mountain of academic papers and government reports has said that climate change could turn the west, already an extreme geography, into an unpredictable soap opera. The climate that gave us regular seasons, dependable snow melt, the insurance of glaciers as well as reliable rainfall will be replaced with a new sort of anarchy – “droughts of longer duration and greater frequency, as well as unusual wet periods and flooding.” Insects will munch our forests and 100-year flood events will become routine visitors. Alberta has tellingly experienced two record floods since 2005.
But these studies, all ignored or denied, do not really capture the reality of the thing. They lack the deep emotion that a flooded family home invokes. A twisted suspension bridge speaks of loss much more strongly than an academic paper on extreme rainfall. And none deliver the visceral hit to the senses that a yard full of soaked paintings and photographs delivers. Believe me: Climate change collides into your life like a traffic accident and leaves you breathless. And then, like an alcoholic parent, it promises a string of unending tragedies.
A grand flood wipes away memories and communities as surely as it changes the course of rivers and the sides of mountains. It may wake us from our collective denial or it may not. But I know this: Climate change is now eroding civilization as surely as it has changed my beloved city.
Andrew Nikiforuk is as a long-time resident of Calgary, writer and contributing editor for the Tyee.
Home and away
I was evacuated from Montgomery near the Bow River in northwest Calgary, and I couldn’t think of much to take. My notebook, my computer, a little jade apple a friend gave me for luck. But everything else seemed replaceable: the furniture, my clothes, even my books.
I don’t mean that I was calm about the state of emergency. I worried about my mom – it’s her house. I worried about damages, money, time. And I felt a loss of normalcy, stability. The loss of that comfortable, predictable feeling that people go on vacation to escape, then appreciate when they return. I’d lost the sense of having a safe, welcoming home.
I’d left home before, but that was by choice. I was adventurous and self-absorbed – I was 18 – and nothing could have kept me in Calgary. I moved to Victoria, where there are only two seasons, sleepy and pleasant.
Then, as I approached 30, something strange happened. Despite the sprawl and the traffic and the snow and the cowboy hats, I missed home.
I moved back last August and found the city changed. There was a car-share and a cool mayor. And – the writer in me should have recognized this as foreshadowing – the winter wasn’t so bad.
I had changed, too. I can’t deny it: I now find cowboy hats totally hot.
This year I was incomprehensibly lucky to work as the University of Calgary’s writer-in-residence, and my luck held. My mom’s house wasn’t touched by the floods, though the water lapped up to our lawn.
But from our windows, we can see destroyed houses. So I put on rubber boots and helped a stranger tear drywall from his soaked-through house.
that we’re standing together, up to our knees in mud. Soon we’ll party together and eventually get back to the business-as-usual of pipelines and oil sands. Writer or truck driver, around here it’s all the same paycheque – we’re all up to our throats in that black mud.
But now that we’ve experienced such loss, maybe we’ll turn our thoughts to those in northern Alberta and along proposed pipeline routes who fear environmental devastation. Maybe some of us who lost our homes for even just a few days will stand with others – First Nations, ranchers, even caribou and wolves –who could lose theirs.
Deborah Willis was the Calgary Distinguished Writers Program writer-in-residence for 2012-2013. Her first book, Vanishing and Other Stories, was nominated for a Governor-General’s Award.