Greetings from Spring Break! It was a toasty 29 degrees today in Juneau, with lovely sunshine and the relaxed atmosphere of a campus on break. This break has been a great time to recharge, although the highlight was definitely this past Tuesday when I went hiking.
Luckily, spring break has been fortunate in terms of weather – whereas I didn’t truly see the sunshine in Juneau for almost the first two whole months, there have been many clear days, with mild temperatures and little scattered rain – truly a novelty for Juneau weather. It is a rainforest after all.
Anyway, on Tuesday, some of us kids still here on break packed up for a trip to Mendenhall Glacier, a regal and inspirational feat of monumental natural forces framed with an aesthetic geared towards the tourist’s “Alaskan experience”. Its a great sight for picture taking and hiking, although for the most part, the tourist experience consists of seeing the glacier from afar in the comfort of the visitor’s center. Now, of course, the visitor’s center is a nice area with some good information, I’m sure, but we decided instead that we should climb to and underneath the glacier. The route to such a achievement is a difficult one and veers from the comfort of Forest Service approved trails – a notion I was not completely comfortable with, but in the interest of seeing one of the great sights of Juneau up close, we went forward with a candid, yet not altogether detailed, hand-drawn map.
Hours of bouldering, hiking, climbing, and a little bit of complaining later, we reached the glacier itself, although not without the exploit of adventure attained along the way. It was amazing, humbling, and a little frightening to be underneath a glacier – especially one that can be heard cracking, shifting in weight, and receding consistently throughout the recent past and into the future. This glacier is always dynamic and changing. The scenario of hearing cracks from above and crashing ice played over and over in my head as we ventured underneath the glacier into the so-called “ice caves”, which fluctuate with the glacier and sometimes can be huge, other times little more than crawl space. The interior is simply indescribable, as was the feeling I had within myself, although I’ll try it anyway.
Imagine putting your hands on walls and ceilings made of compacted snow, ice, and lots of time – they felt smooth to the touch but look coarse and fringed with ice particles within. Even the walls themselves seemed vulnerable, like an object teetering off the edge of a table, only just weighing its center of gravity on the table. Even more vulnerable, however, was myself. My own flesh, which was cut by rocks and aching from over-usage, could not withstand the weight of this thickened, raw glacier. If gravity chose to pull, so did it pull my own vitality with it, a hair-raising and defenseless feeling indeed…
However, this may have mostly been an ego-centric feeling. The likelihood of that particular ice cracking and falling onto the particular spot of where I stood was likely rather low. Regardless, the possibility remains – one that the psyche wrestles with and ultimately, refuses to let go of. This, I think, was the important part for me while I thought about my own vulnerability. It didn’t matter how close I might have been to being crushed by the glacier – it mostly mattered how susceptible I felt to such a fate. And for some reason, before we slid out and began the long hike (I use “hike” loosely, it mostly consisted of crawl/climbing followed by sliding on our butts down the crevasses of the rock peninsula) back to the trail, I felt extremely confident. Which was nice. Secure, even. And in a very strange place to feel secure.
But upon reflection, I thought that perhaps this wasn’t the most important thing to feel. What I felt before I felt confident – scared out of wit’s end with the possibility of serious injury or death, by far the worst-case scenario although also a slim possibility, yet somehow putting one foot in front of the other, trusting my grip on indents in rocks and a helping hand (or judgment, or footing) from fellow hikers – the courage that spurred me on through the journey and underneath that glacier – that was what was important. A balance of logical understanding – the basic understanding of self-preservation and survival – and being an emotional wreck, although finding the will somehow to continue onwards onto what was truly the defining moment of the hike, the day, spring break, and perhaps my whole semester in Alaska – and in that will to continue on is where we all find the ability to face the improbability of peacefully and joyfully greeting every day with the courage and well-being to understand that although our own existence may be insignificant and difficult, there is still worth and beauty to find along the way. If only we have the courage to seek it out and capture it.
“What makes a king out of a slave? Courage!” - The Cowardly Lion, Wizard of Oz
Don’t be a slave to your everyday life – be the transformation of your existence into something worthwhile, beautiful, and uplifting.