AUTHOR’S MEMO FOR AUTOETHNOGRAPHIC POETRY: FIRST SUMMER IN WHITEHORSE
I moved to the Yukon, a territory in Canada’s north in November 2020. Here, the impacts of climate change are not subtle, as the 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report asserted, “warming over land is larger than the global average and it is more than twice as high in the Arctic.” That report also noted “climate change is intensifying the water cycle. This brings more intense rainfall and associated flooding.”
In the north, you would expect a winter of crusty, high snow banks and surging snowstorms, but Yukoners have told me Whitehorse, Yukon is actually known historically to have less snowfall than lake-affected south-western Ontario, where I was born and raised. Climate change is altering this and for two years in a row now there has been record-breaking winter precipitation in Whitehorse. December 2021 was the snowiest since 1980. We are preparing for spring and summer flooding again already.
This poem is rumination on how the personal experience of volunteering in never-before-seen flood relief efforts in the remote north reinforces the research that “many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years.”
I now work directly with a leader, the Minister I mention in the poem, who was a former reviewer for one IPCC report, and who is passionate about reducing waste and protecting the environment for generations to come. He is on a mission to reach as many as he can and the boaters in the poem allude to a larger conservative culture of climate change denial that is still a challenge in many pockets across the globe. How do we reach them? We get in the water and we must get them in the water, too.
Wearing shorts and sweating in the North while working to mitigate the impacts of heavy snowfall is potent contrast. An engorged, gorgeous river that gives life to so much but that can also kill is potent contrast.
The physicality of stuffing sandbags followed by losing control in that dangerously high river reveals a tangible but also frightening and urgent sense of time in an intense environment. This intensity is our new everyday. It brought water to the forefront of the climate change discussion for me. And once you wade out of your fruitless battle with the Yukon River, you cannot go back to looking at it as you once did. The water has spoken.