Like many great nature infatuations, mine began in Alaska.
I spent two months of summer 2013 exploring the last frontier with my closest friend and adventure partner. We slept on beaches, picked fresh mussels at low tide, ate countless pounds of fresh salmon and halibut, watched elongated sunsets bleed into equally elongated sunrises, bushwacked through devil’s club and alders and yelled loud whenever we spotted a steamy pile of fresh bear scat.
Most important, though, we explored glaciers. We skied, trekked and slept on them. We stared at them, painted water colors, wrote passages, drank water from streams, woke from dreams on them. We rafted from their gaping mouths to their ocean outlets. We tangled ourselves in crevasse mazes. We stood on the edge and peered down into endless moulins. We let the glaciers fill us with something we’d never encountered before. Something few people ever experience. Something that one day may not be there to experience.
Being that I’m a journalist, writer, adventurer and general nature lover, I read lots of media coverage of glaciers. Most often, I’m struck by how fatalistic it is, how the media tries to coerce responsible action in its readers by frightening them with shocking statistics and foreboding, the-world-is-ending, the-ocean-rising, humanity-is-screwed rhetoric. While I appreciate that humans should be aware of the consequences their actions have on various ecosystems throughout the world (and absolutely agree that human action has had astounding and irreversible consequences) I think there’s a danger in only showing the Day After Tomorrow outcomes, and using fear to try to instill new behaviors. Sometimes doing so has the effect of pushing audiences even further away.
So, I developed a project to show the other side of glaciers. They’re melting, it’s true. Scientific measurements, photographs, personal accounts, evolutionary ecosystem histories prove this. But I don’t want to focus on that. We already know that.
My focus is instead on the incredulity of glaciers. On capturing the experience of sleeping and waking on a glacier. On feeling it grumble, hearing its pure blue streams gurgle and laugh, watching its colors morph as light changes through the long hours of a day. On peering into the void of a crevasse and appreciating what such voids can teach us.
Maybe, if people better understand how powerful it is to encounter a glacier, they might feel a deeper sense of responsibility in curbing their emissions, resource consumption or their support of anthropogenic activities that support widespread resource use and degradation.
If nothing else, they can know what it’s like to experience one of the most powerful natural spaces on earth, a space, and experience that is inevitably on the decline.
On June 7, I arrive in Alaska and pick up where I left off last summer. But this summer will be different. I’ll be experiencing glaciers around the state, but also interviewing people about their glacier experiences. Thanks to support from the University of Wyoming, I’ll be capturing amazing photos of glaciers and the people who study them. I’ll be taking video and making small documentaries. And I’ll be writing every bit of every experience down, and bringing all of it to you, the public.
So stay tuned; it’s going to be a summer filled with amazement, adventure and insight.