REMEMBERING WHAT I FIGHT FOR
by PALOMA SIEGEL
Art by MADELINE CAMILLI
It’s a Wednesday, or Thursday, or maybe Monday, or maybe it doesn’t matter. It’s summer and the sun is shining bright. Brighter here, in the high latitudes above the Arctic Circle. Much brighter. I pull my collar up above my chin to keep my skin from scalding. The sun here feels like daggers, burning me from every angle. Good thing it’s a cold summer day in Greenland. Beneath my feet, the wooden gangplank creaks. Moss creeps out from the shade and reaches for sunlight, anxious to get its fill before the inevitable clouds roll in, before the sun dips below the horizon for half the year. We stay on the trail, though all I want is to run through the soft tundra, roll in the heather, and climb over rocks. The excitement is tangible. We speak in a hushed murmur, laughter occasionally ringing in the air. Rounding a corner and over a hill, the ice first catches my eye. Jagged skyscrapers of white jut towards the sky, floating on the bluest water I’ve ever seen. I want to race up and touch it all, the ice too perfectly chiseled to be true.
I want to touch it all before it’s gone.
The trail ends and I tumble into the heather coating the rocks. Our grins are too wide to conceal as we settle into nooks in the granite. Alone I sit, entranced. Together, we are spellbound. I’ve never seen ice like this. I’ve never felt this vulnerable, this close to the heartbeat of the planet. With a roar, blinding white ice cracks into the river of turquoise, a cacophony of collapse. Through the granite, a cool wind whispers and tugs on the ends of my braids. Tears pool in the corners of my eyes. My heart is pounding; it's all I can hear. I am happier than I have ever been, and yet cannot stop crying. Each crack and crumble sting me with more and more ferocity. Ice extends for what looks like eternity, but I know it's not eternity. I know it’s all so very finite, so precious, so fragile. I am acutely aware of time, as I sit here cradled by the earth. I notice how very small I am, how very big this ice fjord is, and how very quickly it is flowing out to sea.
We all feel it. We are all silent.
Watching these icebergs that broke off the Greenland ice sheet pour into the ocean is magnificent and terrifying. I am sixteen, and I already know too much about climate change to sleep at night. It is all I talk about with my friends, all I learn about at school, and all I feel as I sit here in the Arctic. I hear climate projections in terms of my birthday. By 2030, you will be getting married on a scorched earth, far from your coastal home that is now underwater. By 2050, your kids will ask you why you chose to bring children into a collapsing world. I know they will ask me that, because I ask my parents the same question. Some days I come home in tears, asking my mom why they thought to raise me in a world disintegrating before my own eyes. Will my children ever see ice? Will they know what healthy rivers look like? Will they learn to ski on real snow? In 2016, California’s drought was so severe that I had forgotten what a snowstorm felt like. Snowfall became so novel that my dad would pull me out of school and up to the mountains at the faintest dusting of powder. By the time I am twenty-one, “nearly all” of the ski resorts in the United States will rely on artificial snow making, taking an enormous toll on already strained watersheds.1
I am sixteen and I do not know that next year, school will be canceled for a week as wildfire smoke engulfs the air and obscures the sun. I do not know that I will have to stay inside because the air outside will suffocate me. The fires of 2017 in Napa County, just 45 minutes north of my home, will burn down over 8,000 structures and result in 44 fatalities. That year alone, over 1.5 million acres of California will burn after five years of devastating drought. I will smell the smoke from my bedroom as I am finishing a homework assignment late at night and wonder why someone is having a bonfire on a Sunday at midnight. I will wake up to my best friend frantically calling me, in tears because her childhood summer camp burned down. I do not know how much I will miss the sunset, the blue sky, and the taste of crisp air. I do not know what it feels like to have my world turned inside out.
I sense, but do not know, that ice will alter my life’s course. I will turn twenty-one and find myself skiing across an icefield in Alaska. Every day I will wake up to dig snow pits and drill ice cores. Every night I will contemplate the fate of Southeast Alaskan glaciers and the fate of the planet. I will try to hold my chin high as I feel wind twist through the granite and tug at my braids, feeling the ice crack beneath my feet.
I do not know because I am sixteen and I am in Greenland, sitting above a sea of ice, under a pristine sky, taking deep breaths in the glacial wind.
 Jason Palmer, Withdrawal Symptoms: Afghanistan goes hungry, The Intelligence by the Economist, podcast audio, February 11, 2022. https://theintelligence.economist.com/
 “October Fires’ 44th Victim: A Creative, Globetrotting Engineer With ‘the Kindest Heart.’” n.d. KQED. Accessed February 17, 2022. https://www.kqed.org/news/11633757/october-fires-44th-victim-a-creative-globetrotting-engineer-with-the-kindest-heart.
 “2017 Fire Season.” n.d. Accessed April 14, 2022. https://www.fire.ca.gov/incidents/2017/.
PALOMA SIEGEL is a student studying Physical Geography at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her main focus is in the Arctic and polar regions. Paloma is equally passionate about inspiring future climate scientists as she is about her own climate science, and spends many hours in high school classrooms, talking about being a polar researcher. Her goal is to address climate change by focusing on glacial geochemistry, arctic communities, and adaptation strategies specific to the poles.
MADELINE CAMILLI earned her BFA with a concentration in printmaking and ceramics at the University of Colorado Boulder. She enjoys every aspect of creating and loves working with natural materials to incorporate them into clay, fiber work, illustration, and photography. She currently lives and works in Boulder.