Coming home on the bus in the middle of February, deep in the last cold snap of winter, I sat beside an elderly woman who swore she could smell the Athabasca Glacier, all the way from the Columbia Icefields. She could smell it on the west wind, that very day. She had been there once. She knew.
“What does it smell like?” I asked, curious and more than a little skeptical. “Like rotting garbage?” (Thinking of all that debris.)
“Oh no,” she said, “so fresh! Think of the water molecules released that haven’t been breathed in ten thousand years! The pure air, just lying there, never touched!”
When I got off the bus that night, I admit, I tried to sniff the air a little against the minus twenty-nine degree wind. It didn’t last long. I pulled down my hat and covered my face with my scarf and bee-lined it for my apartment and my fireplace.
But I haven’t stopped thinking about her words. They touched something in me: the dream of life stacked layer upon layer. The layers of story under our feet. The generations that have gone before us, their genes and their experiences, my own life experiences. Some of them like an ice sheet, some like an Arctic or a Pacific Ocean. Some like a volcano or an earthquake. How they’ve all shaped who I am today. The parts buried and exposed; the parts that still await discovery.
The change of seasons reminds me of that promise, spring perhaps more than any other. Every spring is a piece of the spring gone before and a piece yet to come. The layers speak of a new generation. The freshness in the air, something not thought of or felt in months or years. The earth remembers itself, unfurls ancient molecules—soil, air, water–seed. Hope.
Saturday night in the Quarters near where I live, the community gathered for Glow, a lantern parade on the Armature to welcome spring. The theme was Under a Prehistoric Sea. The land of what we now call Alberta was, more than once, covered by oceans. The bobbing lanterns in the crowd attested to that: jelly fish, star fish, giant turtles, prehistoric sturgeon. And there was a strong wind blowing, cold, just possibly, I thought afterwards, off a glacier.