A Story of Fire and Ice
by Usha Alexander
This is the second in a series of essays, On Climate Truth and Fiction, in which I raise questions about environmental distress, the human experience, and storytelling. The first part is here.
When I was a kid, I used to wonder about the possibility that the planet could slip back into an ice age. I grew up in the Rocky Mountain region of the northwestern USA, where winters lasted half the year and summers were brief and blustery. I hated being cold all the time. Aware that ice ages result from some sort of natural cycles, I worried what might happen if the planet should head that way again. I tried to imagine how we would construct cities and farms, how we would travel between countries or even build roads, if huge glaciers grew down from the Arctic Circle and smothered our little mountain town.
So I was surprised to learn, much later, that we actually do live in an ice age. In historical memory, we’ve been enjoying a warmish, rather pleasant phase of this ice age, to be sure — an interglacial phase, called the Holocene, that’s persisted for about ten thousand years. But interglacial phases, like our present one, have one been brief respites, as the ice age has cycled between glacial and interglacial phases over the past two million years. Past interglacials never lasted very long and, left to its own geological devices, all signs suggested that this one would end too, to be followed by a much longer glacial phase — the stuff of my nightmares.
Usha Alexander was born to Indian immigrants who came to the United States in the 1950s and settled in the very small town of Pocatello, Idaho. She ran away to university at the age of 19, and later joined the US Peace Corps, where she served as a science teacher in the archipelago nation of Vanuatu. In the late 90s, Usha made her way to the San Francisco Bay Area of California, where she settled and worked for Apple Computer for many years.
Since 2013, Usha resides with her partner, writer and photographer, Namit Arora, in the National Capital Region of India. Usha has lived in four different countries and has learned to carry her home within herself, yet she frequently returns to the CA Bay Area with a certain sense of homecoming.