Tina at Travels and Trifles set this week’s challenge, ‘Pick a Place,’ to show somewhere memorable we have visited. My place was memorable not only because it’s an iconic site but also because of the feelings it awoke in me.
Mark Twain said, “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.” Or in simple terms, travel broadens the mind. And he was right of course. Travel also puts you in your place, it shows what a small space you really occupy on earth. It shakes your appreciation of your self and your countrymen and puts your preconceived ideas right where they belong. And above all else, it’s fun.
But with growing awareness of the catastrophic effects of climate change, how does the environmentally responsible person travel? We live at the bottom of the world and the places we most desire to travel to are at the top. Our days of hitch hiking and roughing it are mostly behind us leaving long haul flights the only option to get to far flung places. Less than two years of electric car use have off-set the emissions of two long haul flights, which made our trip to Canada carbon neutral but only really helps the planet on paper.
And then there are the places you visit. Places like the Columbia Icefield, located in the Canadian Rockies astride the Continental Divide along the border of British Columbia and Alberta. It covers 225 square kilometres in area, is 100 to 365 metres deep and receives up to 7 meters of snowfall per year. It has been diminishing since 1844 and has lost 100 kilometers of area in the past 25 years. The Athabasca Glacier on the Icefield has receded 1 1/2 kilometers since 1890. Heavy snow years don’t make up for longer, hotter summers and it is losing 5 meters of depth every year. There are fears it could be gone completely in a generation.
How much does tourism contribute to this recession? On our trip we learnt that ash from successive years of forest fires has settled on the ice, attracting more heat from the sun and causing more melt. Why then do they fill their ‘snow coaches’ with tourists and drive them on to the ice? In the hour we were there, coach after coach disgorged 50 pairs of boots to slip, slide and clamber on the Athabasca Glacier. Every turn of the coach wheels churned the surface up into soft flakes, that melted under those boots. What were we doing there? What was to be gained by being on the ice?
Nothing, nothing at all. I have stood awestruck at the edge of our own Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers and never felt the need to walk on them. It didn’t feel good to stand on the Athabasca Glacier while it bled. Every drop of water that flowed out from under our feet had been locked in ice for thousands of years. And as I watched it flow away, I couldn’t help feeling I shouldn’t be there.