By Chris Heeter
March 12, 2019
It’s March and dogsledding is in the air — the one time of year where sled dogs are featured for their amazing athleticism and beautiful spirits. It’s Iditarod season, and the 1,100 mile dog-sled race from Anchorage to Nome is on.
As a guide who has led dog sledding trips for 30 years, I’ve gotten to experience northern Minnesota winters firsthand — and, therefore, I’ve also witnessed the dramatic changes to the climate over those decades.
Climate research is studied in 30-year increments, and sometimes can seem very distant and far off, like the iconic heart-wrenching photo of the polar bear balancing on a small chunk of ice. But even here, on the edge of big cities, impacts of climate change are all around us.
Where once there was reliable snow and steady temperatures for dog sledding or other winter activities, now even in January and February it’s a roll of the dice in terms of conditions. I don’t even want to calculate how many hours we’ve spent shoveling snow from the woods onto the trails over the past eight years in order for there to be enough snow for the dogs to run.
These changes to climate have shifted to freeze/thaw/freeze/thaw, disrupting not just snow conditions, but visibly and powerfully altering the habitat in significant ways. Without steady frigid temperatures, the tick population, for example, isn’t culled. Insects like the emerald ash borer don’t die off. This is real, you guys. And here. Affecting us in ways large and small, even as you read this.
In 33 years of guiding canoe trips in the summer, my – and my co-guides’ – anecdotal observations add up quickly. It used to be that guiding a trip in the Boundary Waters for a week meant there might be a storm or two, but generally, big storms were few and far between. Now, if you are out for a week, you need to expect and plan for violent storms, lots of lightning, the potential of trees coming down.
So where do we go from here? It would be easy to be disheartened and pretty hopeless. But fresh off a workshop with Climate Generation, I am reminded of how many of us are out there collectively, asking questions, speaking up, making a difference.
And it’s not as hard as it may seem to become part of this difference. To take a stand on behalf of wildness — inside and out. For starters, pay attention. No doubt you’ll start noticing how much is changing in your backyard and beyond. Once your awareness is heightened, you’ll see it everywhere, from floods and wildfires to whole cultures and classes disrupted by these changes.
Take heart. We are smart and crafty. And collectively, we can be brilliant. It’s time. It’s time to take pen to paper and start speaking your mind. Get familiar with your representatives, become a regular in letting them know the policies you care about. Talk with neighbors and community groups, see what you can come up with to inspire less use of fossil fuels and more alternative or efficient ways of heating, cooling and moving around. A small group of people can make a difference. And, it’s pretty fun to see what kind of wild trouble you can stir up on behalf of this planet we all call home.
Chris Heeter is founder of The Wild Institute, a canvas for her speaking and team building programs. She freely admits that much of what she’s learned about humanity comes from dogs and rivers — from her team of 16 sled dogs, who she helped breed, raise, and train, to her decades of guiding whitewater canoe trips. This story was crafted through Climate Generation’s Talk Climate Institute, taking place this year in Duluth on March 25-26. Learn more at climategen.org/talk-climate-institute.