Years ago, I was walking my dog along the Annex Dyke and ran into a Fernie old timer. For those that don’t know, one of the real pleasures of having a dog is she/he gets you out in the evening even if you don’t feel like it and I often have these great encounters with locals and visitors alike. I can’t be sure of the date, but it was late May or early June because we stood together facing the Elk River which was running high. I remember asking if, in his long experience in the community, he thought it was going to flood. He just glanced upward, to the upper slopes of Mount Fernie and said,
I confess as a resident of the Annex I often get a bit nervous as late spring approaches and the Elk River starts to rise, less so now that the dyke has been raised, but still, water can wreak great havoc with human infrastructure just by doing its thing. So, while his nope gave me cause for optimism, I asked how he could be so sure. He pointed upward.
“If the last of the snow is above the rock band at the top of Fernie Mountain by the end of May, we’ll be okay.”
I hope I nodded with sage understanding. I love this sort of local wisdom and I think about that gentleman, long since passed, daily through May and the start of June. My keenest hope is that this sort of local knowledge gleaned from years of being in one place holds true even in the face of climate change though, sadly, I expect this sort of confidence in our lived experience and the lived experience of our elders is becoming less reliable.
In my own experience growing up here I, like many, have seen change in the landscape and its behaviour. I remember climbing a ladder leaning against the house to hang precariously (don’t try this at home!) just to get what felt like a rare picture of a blood-red sun as it set in the notch at the head of the Cedar Valley. Though I long ago misplaced that picture I recall the result quite clearly: blood-red sun in an iris of fiery orange, outward to thick filaments of grey smoke against an otherwise clear blue evening sky. How many of us in recent years have taken a similar picture? How many of us have stopped taking pictures of that sunset because it has just become too disheartening and frankly too easy?
As we move into summer my dearest hope is that our great little city, with all its quirks and foibles, its Wednesday Socials and Wapiti Music Festival, its gang floats down the Elk and Sunday Summer Markets, weathers another unpredictable season with resilience and grit, with smart choices and good people supporting each other. Let’s work together to do what we can to lessen our impact so that we, when it’s our turn to be elders, can reliably pass on some local wisdom to ease the anxiety of another.
Photo by Vanessa Croome