Why Make Music in a World on the Verge of Melting?

John Luther Adams

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Some say the world will end by fire. Others say by ice. Here in Alaska, the land of snow and ice, we're beginning to feel the fire.

In the summer of 2000 the Iñupiat community of Barrow—the farthest north settlement on the mainland of North America—had its first thunderstorm in history. Tuna were sighted in the Arctic Ocean. No one had ever seen them this far North before.

The following winter Lake Illiamna on the Alaska Peninsula didn't freeze over. No one, not even the oldest Native elders, could remember this happening. In Fairbanks for the first time in memory the temperature never dropped to 40 below. At the small community of Salcha, the ice on the Tanana River broke free of the banks and jammed up, flooding nearby homes and roads. This is something that happens in April or May, not in the middle of winter. Months of unseasonably warm temperatures, scant snowfall, and constantly changing winds were followed by an early spring. This was not the exhilarating explosion, the sudden violence of the sub-Arctic spring. It was the slow attrition of dripping eaves and rotting snow.