Most of my favorite moments have been those filled with wonder… seeing our daughter’s teeny self wiggle around when we had our first pregnancy ultrasound, turning around from the chuppah during our wedding ceremony to marvel at all the people from different aspects of our lives there with us to share our joy, hiking to the top of a mountain in Israel to a rewarding view of a massive waterfall, standing in the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa with my own two eyes.
I am often sort of sideswiped by wonder. I never really expect it. I’m just bopping along in life and sometimes those telling goosebumps will appear and I feel a shiver run through my body and I know without a doubt that some life force bigger than I is revealing itself to me and that I am profoundly blessed for the opportunity.
One such opportunity was in Juneau, where we boarded a helicopter and soared over the Juneau Icefield and got to explore a growing glacier, the Taku. This is North America’s fifth largest icefield and it covers over 1500 square miles of land (100 miles north to south and 45 east to west).
Glaciers form on land as a result of the accumulation of snow over hundreds or thousands of years. It takes about 100 years for snow to compress and turn to ice to form a glacier. Over the eons, glaciers have advanced and receded according to the cycles of climatic warming and cooling. The current trend of global warming has more than 95% of the world’s glaciers retreating.
“Savor and cherish every moment, sound, and mental picture of your time in these pristine wilderness regions of ancient ice. Alaska’s glaciers have an uncanny way of satisfying man’s growing hunger for beauty and bigness beyond himself.” ~ Kathy Slamp, “Rendezvous With Majesty”
After Alaska’s purchase, one of the first Americans to consider it a land of value was John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club. In 1879, Muir made his first of several trips to Alaska. He fell in love with her vast wilderness, discovering glaciers and fjords along the way and making countless measurements and sketches. When we got home from our cruise, I read Muir’s Travels in Alaska. All of the quotations below are excerpts from this book of his end-of-life reflections on these early Alaskan travels.
These mountain and wilderness areas are so vast and the glaciers are so majestic that you can quickly lose perspective when you are close to them. In the photo above, you can barely see the helicopter.
“… on this mountain-top, amid so much ice…, everything was more or less luminous, and I seemed to be poised in a vast hollow between two skies of almost equal brightness.”
“Standing here, with facts so fresh and telling and held up so vividly before us, every seeing observer… must readily apprehend the earth-sculpturing, landscape-making action of flowing ice. And here, too, one learns that the world, though made, is yet being made; that this is still the morning of creation; that mountains long conceived are now being born, channels traced for coming rivers, basins hollowed for lakes; that moraine soil is being ground and outspread for coming plants…while the finest part of the grist, seen hastening out to sea in the draining streams, is being stored away in darkness and builded particle on particle, cementing and crystallizing, to make the mountains and valleys and plains of other predestined landscapes, to be followed by still others in endless rhythm and beauty.”
“… oftentimes stopping to admire the blue ice-caves into which glad, rejoicing streams from the mountain-side were hurrying as if going home, while the glacier seemed to open wide its crystal gateways to welcome them.”
I must tell you how surreal this experience felt to me. I’ve never been in a helicopter before, so flying in the air with a piece of plexiglass between me and the air outside was super strange. Every second of the view was stunning and I forgot to notice any fear. Our pilot gives people this tour a few times every day, so she’d already lost her sense of amazement, but I couldn’t fathom the numbers she was spouting off like it was nothing, telling us how long these mountains have been here. And the study of glaciers has a language all its own… equilibrium zone, lateral moraine, moulin, zone of plastic flow… huh?
I liken the people in the photo above to little moon people… I really felt like I must be on the moon. I was using every one of my senses to “make sense” of it in my mind. It was completely silent, obviously cold but not windy, with crunching ice underfoot. I could not tell where it was ok to step and where it was not, so I proceeded very carefully. I was imagining mammoths roaming this very same area one and a half million years ago. I was in complete awe.
“… many streams were rejoicing, gurgling, ringing, singing, in frictionless channels worn down through the white disintegrated ice of the surface into the quick and living blue, in which they flowed with a grace of motion and flashing of light to be found only in the crystal hillocks and ravines of a glacier.”
The Taku Glacier is the Juneau Icefield’s largest glacier. It is fed by its substantial accumulation area and its change is unrelated to climate change. It is currently the only in the area that is advancing, while other glaciers on the Icefield continue to retreat. In the photo above, you can see that it is slowing knocking down trees!Getting closer to the crevasses.
“When night was drawing near, .. thanking God for the gift of this great day. The setting sun fired the clouds. All the world seemed new-born. Every thing, even the commonest, was seen in new light and was looked at with new interest as if never seen before.”
Thank you, John Muir. That is exactly how I felt too. On the bus trip from the air field to the cruise ship, I was still trying to make sense of what I’d just seen. And I still am.