Not Just Another Story of Melting Ice

University of Montana’s Writer in Residence Complicates Narratives of Climate Change in New Book

As glaciers inhale and exhale, their breath combining in the frigid Icelandic air with the people who live alongside them, Dr. M. Jackson listens. She listens to this steady breathing, their deep voices, and the stories they tell her in their native language of Iceland and of the Earth. Because she believes their stories already exist, Jackson does not write for the Icelandic glaciers she studies; instead, she translates their age-old scientific histories into a powerful narrative of ice, climate, and people. 

Published this January, Dr. M Jackson’s The Secret Lives of Glaciers intertwines narratives of science, history, and culture in a unique story of climate change and the people it does, and will continue to, affect. The nonfiction book is based on Jackson’s Ph.D. dissertation research she completed at the University of Oregon.
The Secret Lives of Glaciers, through eight specific chapters, explores Jackson’s personal experiences in and near the Icelandic town of Höfn and its surrounding glaciers, delving into the science behind studying these glaciers. This book reflects themes similar to books already published in the genre of sustainability yet emerges as distinctive for its specific focus on individual narratives combining in a new, more hopeful take on future environmental activism. In 292 pages, Jackson details her own time living in Iceland and her interactions with various members of the community. She interviews native Icelanders, uncovering their complex, personal positions toward glaciers, as many cherish the beauty and cultural importance of glaciers yet remain fearful of their natural power to damage and destroy.

Jackson relates this complex position toward glaciers to larger ideas of climate change, complicating how we as humans understand our place on the planet and its precarious future. To her, documenting climate change is more than just another story of melting ice; it is a story of transformation of the planet and ourselves--one in which we must change our beliefs to make room for a future of continued ice. 

As glaciers have naturally transformed the landscape and climate change continues this transformation, it then becomes a necessity to transform ourselves and our own understandings of our role as humans. To quote Jackson from The Secret Lives of Glaciers, “Perhaps thinking about a glacier’s aliveness is to think about living, about what living means, about how we respond to the livingness of the world around us. In many ways, thinking about glaciers is also thinking about us… By perceiving glaciers both as sentient and as living things to care about, such relations do not remain one-directional. People may care about a glacier, and the glacier may care about them.” (174, 179-80). Just as we as humans live on this planet, so do glaciers. Jackson believes in the power of glaciers to whisper their stories to us and in our ability to listen to these stories and respond to them. 

A glaciologist, geologist, writer, National Geographic Explorer, TED Fellow, and current University of Montana Writer in Residence, Dr. M. Jackson has spent years conducting research in Iceland and the arctic. She has received three U.S. Fulbright grants and a U.S. Fulbright Ambassadorship and is presently an Arctic Expert for the National Geographic Society. This book is Jackson’s second; she previously published While Glaciers Slept: Being Human in a Time of Climate Change in 2015, a compelling narrative connecting familial and global change.

Published by Green Writers Press in Brattleboro, Vermont, the book can be purchased wherever books are sold. Green Writers Press seeks to publish narratives promoting sustainability and environmental justice and give voice to messages of hope and renewal for our planet.   

Rosa Canales is an editorial intern for Green Writers Press and a student at Denison University in Ohio.