People in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island are experiencing a profound sense of loss and dislocation because the Comox Glacier is melting, says Vancouver writer J.B. MacKinnon.
That's what MacKinnon recently discovered while working on a story called The Whale Dying on the Mountain, published in Hakai Magazine.
"In the Comox Valley, almost everything seems to be named after the glacier they have … The glacier is often buried in clouds, but you know it's there," he told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn, noting the glacier is also part of the creation story for the Comox First Nation.
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For generations upon generations, people in the valley have lived in the presence of the glacier, but, like most coastal glaciers in B.C., the Comox Glacier is disappearing — quickly.
Susceptible to climate change
MacKinnon says the glacier has survived all those generations because the temperature is just low enough to sustain it, despite the abundant rainfall.
But the fact that it's just cold enough makes the glacier especially susceptible to the effects of climate change, a similar story for many glaciers in B.C.
"All of a sudden, they're wasting away in the summer and not regaining enough to hold through in the winter snows," he said. "It's disappearing visibly, year by year."
What that disappearance could mean for the local ecosystem is unclear. A vast network of streams and rivers rely on the glacier to feed a steady supply of water.
'It felt like a threat'
Also unclear is what the glacier's disappearance will mean for the people of the Comox Valley and their social relationship with nature.
MacKinnon tried to find similarity between what the Comox Valley is facing and his own experiences as a child, visiting a glacier near the B.C.-Alberta border.
His family stopped doing it for many years, and then he returned to find the scene was totally different.
"We used to have our lunch around the toe of the glacier at this cold pool, and the glacier wasn't there any more," he said. "I realized that those experiences that I had with the glacier had become a part of me, a part of what made me feel like myself in the world."
"When the glacier changed as dramatically as it did, after all those years unchanging in my childhood, it felt like a threat almost."
MacKinnon said during his time in the Comox Valley, he felt in local people a certain unease about the loss of the glacier, which now seems inevitable.
To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Vancouver author explores social impact of a glacier's loss