In two days the moon will be full, the sturgeon moon. We haven’t seen anything of the sky for nearly two weeks because of wildfire smoke. The whole province (and Alberta, too, I think) was hazy with it. On Wednesday we drove as far as Roberts Creek on errands and I don’t think I’ve ever seen or smelled more smoke in our part of the world. But this morning, no, yesterday morning (because it’s going on 3:00 a.m. as I sit at my desk, restless) we woke to clear air, a breeze, and when we swam, it was the lake I smelled, clean and cool. When I came downstairs half an hour ago, the stairs were bright with moonlight. Looking out the window at the top of the stairs, I saw Ursa Major stretched above the printshop and it made me wonder if the bears will come for the crabapples on one of these late August nights. And passing through the living room, I saw the moon in the southern sky briefly through a particular lens, one of the orbs on the hanging window that June Malaka made, and for a moment it was like the eerie sun we’ve been seeing first thing, dark orange in its haze of particulate. But beautiful now because it was red glass that was giving it its colour.
It is good to have clear air again. The last couple of days have been so hot and smokey and when I read this article in The Narwhal yesterday, I encountered the word “solastalgia” with a kind of deep familiarity, though it was the first time I ever read it. It was coined by Glenn Albrecht, an Australian philosopher, about 15 years ago, a portmanteau word containing “solace” and “nostalgia” and it means, more or less, the feelings of distress associated with environmental change close to home. A homesickness for what you’ve always known and loved as it changes or is adversely affected by climate change.
When I was a child, I remember my father taking me—or us? Were my brothers also with me?—to a quiet eddy of the Fraser River near Matsqui where a man had just brought in a sturgeon while fishing on the banks. Others were gathered there to witness the fish. Am I imagining it or did some of them poke it with their feet? There was reverence but also bravado, particularly on the part of the victor. The white sturgeon, Acipenser transmontanus, is a beautiful fish, with barbels on the snout, and they can live to be something like 150 years old. They have survived two ice-ages but their populations are under threat from the usual array of anthropogenic changes to their habitat such over-fishing, degradation of the fresh water and estuaries important to their life cycle. Certain populations (the Nechako for example) are considered “critically imperiled”. I read of a famous sturgeon near Lillooet called Pig Nose (named for an injury to his snout) who’s been caught repeatedly and released and this is always a big moment for the fisher who hooks him. Pig Nose is more than 10 feet long. Lots of photographs and some microchipping before he’s allowed to swim free. And this is considered somehow “conservation” — to participate in the “sport” of tormenting a huge fish, of fighting it with a rod and line, before letting it go. It’s an aspect of humanity I don’t understand.
So in two days, the sturgeon moon. More swims in the cool morning. The fires still rage. There’s no real rain in the forecast. This time next week I’ll be in Ottawa, holding my new grandson (finally) and reading to his brother. My solastalgia is for the whole planet and all its inhabitants, those in far cities and those in rivers. Those haunting the moonlit woods, hungry for apples, and that little girl on the banks of the Fraser, with her father, still in his 30s, never imagining she would never see one of those fish again in her life.