About a Glacier

 

Beleaguered by fog, our jetboat seems adrift in a liminal gray expanse: the horizon is no more than a suggestion, easily obfuscated by shifting light. We are supposedly heading toward the LeConte Glacier, nestled somewhere out amid all this suspended water vapor in the Stikine-LeConte National Wilderness Area. Our captain has been here countless times before, and is unconcerned by the complete and utter lack of any recognizable landmark outside the confines of our rather small watercraft. As a passenger with functionally no control, I am admittedly more fazed as we careen around icebergs in low visibility.

It would be easy to turn this situation into a metaphor. I thought about doing so through the quiet, gray miles, thought about it again when we broke through the fog and saw the glacier, rising sheer and vibrant from the turquoise water. I considered it as we watched seals rest on floating icebergs, as massive chunks of ice calved from the glacial body, as seagulls dipped and dozed above churned water. I wondered about phrasing, how I would articulate events into a cohesive story to present them to an unknown audience.

At some point I stopped thinking about these things, and was instead focused on the way the light caught the tips of the ice, and that particular, ineffable shade of blue. The fact of the matter is that these things are only ever what they are. It doesn’t really matter what I choose to say about them, because they remain themselves. Turning them into a metaphor for something else might make my writing more compelling (which would benefit my audience), but would also fail to engage with the reality of the thing.

The LeConte Glacier has receded noticeably in the past twenty years, and will likely continue to recede until its inevitable demise. Pretty soon, the only metaphor the glacier can be used for will be one about loss, and what we choose to do (or not do) with forewarning.

 

Courtney Buoncore is a Wilderness Fellow in USFS Region 10 working on the Misty Fjords National Monument, Soth Etolin, and Stikine-LeConte Wildernesses.

Courtney graduated in 2018 from Princeton University with a BA in anthropology and a minor in environmental science, specializing in ecology and conservation. Her academic and personal interests center on coupled human and natural systems. She is invested in learning ways to ease tension between those systems and create practical infrastructure beneficial to both. Wilderness gives us an opportunity to explore our relationship with the natural world, and reminds us to recognize the value of non-human life. Courtney's free time is split between reading and backpacking, and always brings The Fellowship of the Ring on her hiking trips.

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