As I looked down from 30,000 feet upon a massive river of ice seeming to rest between two mountain ranges, I was overcome by an emotion I had yet to experience in my 35 years on this Earth. Never had I felt such a pull toward something before. It was as if gravity was literally tugging on me. I could actually feel a sensation as if real weights were strapped to my feet and at the same time pulling at my soul. During the minute I was able to look down at the miles of slow-flowing glacier, observing a period in time where nature itself is sculpting the landscape, I felt locked in time. It was me and the ice and this internal yet physical draw. Nothing else existed.
James Balog, a Boulder-based photographer, was the first to bring my attention to ice. Roughly 4 months prior he had spoken at the University where I work and I had gone to see if I could learn something about taking pictures from this master photographer of animals and ecosystems. Watching his still images become real before my eyes, and hearing about his most recent project, the Extreme Ice Survey, I had never been so emotionally drawn to, nor did I know it was possible to be consumed by, images. I left in a daze and continued to be both haunted and stimulated by the photos for days and weeks and then months.
Prior to July 2012, I had never witnessed anything so powerful that it brought tears to my eyes, as seeing glaciers face-to- face did. The experience dug at my core and shook me to a state of complete awareness. It brought all of the knowledge I have gained through my outdoor experiences, my education, and my work in environmental science together. As I felt the cold air flowing off Holgate Glacier, heard the cracking and popping of ice on the move, and watched massive flakes of ice fall into the ocean, it all came together for me, and I fully understood this system that we are part of, called planet Earth. It is a system that is ever-changing, causing its own changes and changing as a result of the forced changes created by its inhabitants. Looking at glaciers, I knew my place within the system, I felt connected to the system, and I knew that I, one little human just 5 foot 3 inches tall, have a major impact on it.
So what does one do with this knowledge? I impact everything around me, living and non-living. Every living and non-living thing around me impacts my life. How am I impacting it? Is my impact positive or negative, and who or what determines this? Ask questions. Pay attention. Be a healthy part of the system. Those are my current answers to these questions, which will change over time, just like the current landscape being carved by glaciers that will melt away leaving new territory to be explored as it too erodes away and changes form.
I highly recommend watching the 2012 film, Chasing Ice, which features James Balog and the Extreme Ice Survey. To learn more about climate science, visit http://www.green.colostate.edu/climate-center.aspx and for information on why glaciers matter, visit http://earthvisiontrust.org/eis/?page_id=76. Link to the Extreme Ice Survey: http://extremeicesurvey.org/.