anghara (anghara) wrote,

Alaska: the ice

14 September 2006 – Glacier Bay: The Diamond Day

We were supposed to wake on September 14 well on our way to what must be a glittering crown even for the Alaska glory-filled vast vistas – the Glacier Bay National Park, where sixteen tide glaciers flow from mountaintop to ocean, from sky to sea. This was a promise, an almost painful anticipation – especially after Mendenhall, after I had set eyes on an actual glacier, after I had begun to have in inkling about what glaciers were, what they were like.

It was therefore disconcerting and disorienting to wake to… fog. Thick, muffling fog; we could barely see the end of our own balcony, never mind the tiers of balconies below us, never mind the ocean. Forget a shore. Every so often, after the sun was technically up (although it was hard to know this for certain, in this weird white half light), an orb of what must have been our star could be glimpsed through the fog, no more than a perfect white circle, alien and disturbing, brightening into an almost sun-like shimmer one moment and vanishing back into foggy oblivion the next.

“We won’t see ANYTHING!” I wailed at my long-suffering husband.

“It will,” he said, being comfortably oracular, “burn off.”

We had a champagne breakfast bespoke for our room that day, so that we could sit and stare at the scenery of Glacier Bay – and I started out sceptical about its fulfilling its purpose, I have to admit. But by the time the room service guy arrived and started ferrying in our breakfast – warm bagels, crabs legs, salmon, pastries, fruit, coffee, and a bottle of Moet – the fog was beginning to lift. He opened the champagne for us, and told us to have a good day, and left – and when we turned back to the sea the fog was gone. The sky was blue. The sea was brilliant. And the air was cold with the promise of ice.

Too cold. We toasted one another with the champagne out on the balcony, and prudently retired inside to have our breakfast. Well, HE had most of the seafood, which I don’t eat. But I had the bagels and the fruit and the YUMMY little pastries, and then we had some more champagne, and watched the day turn into its promised glory, until I finally yelped, “ICES!” and pointed to a small floating piece of ice which was serenely floating past beside us. Followed by another. Another. Another.

We were here.

We basically grabbed the necessities – rdeck’s cane, the camera – and went haring off to the top decks to watch.

Oh. My. God.

The ices, as I had called them, were all around us, cold in a cold ocean – but the glaciers sparkled in the sunlight like diamonds, the ice glinting white and blue and translucent, sometimes almost painful to watch in the brightness of the brilliant sun in an absolutely cloudless and perfect blue sky. We were up there from something like 9 in the morning to nearly 3 PM, staring, laughing, crying, grinning with the sheer exhilaration of it all. We hung out for a while in front of the beautiful Margerie Glacier, elegant and majestic in its unbroken graceful curve along its valley, its lines leading straight up to jagged peaks blinding with fresh snow. It was hard to stop with the photographs – I have to have nearly two hundred pictures of Glacier Bay on my memory card, it was all so unearthly and so beautiful that it was hard to know where to point the camera next, how to stop. I wandered downstairs for a moment to talk to the visiting park rangers who had boarded the ship that morning, and learned that it was possible to join the Alaska Natural History Association right there and then – with about five bucks of the membership fee going towards adminstrration and the rest being ploughed straight back into the parks. And I handed over the money without flinching. To this, I’ll pay my dues. For this, I’ll give what I can. This is a gift and it must be nurtured, treasured, saved.

I went back up again, and smiled at it all again, for now some small part of me remained here as a guardian angel presence. And then wept once more for the joy of it. I did a lot of that in Alaska.

We went back down again, then, because the ship was gathering herself up to leave – according to my loving husband, the last gift of the Glacier Bay sunshine was a somewhat sunburned nose, but what of it? I would have paid a higher price than that for what we had been given. I got to talking, later, with one of the girls who worked in the ship’s general store, an Australian who told me that we had indeed been “blissed” by the weather because she had been doing this particular run all season – some three months or so – and in that time they had had three, count ‘em, three, perfect days in Glacier Bay. Counting this one.

We went down to have Afternoon Tea at 3:30, and that was pretty cool – all the waiters in white gloves, and the dainty little sandwiches, and the delicious tiny little pastries, and oh my god they knew how to do proper scones, with just the right crumbly texture and jam and cream. A perfect end of a perfect day.

Well, almost.

The sun starts to set in this peerless, flawless sky – on the other side of the ship to our stateroom. But we, from our balcony, could see the Fairweather Range, again with fresh snow on the peaks, great blinding sweep of its peaks and valleys and yet more glaciers and ice fields. And the snow starts to catch the sunset. And I sat there for a long glorious slipping into twilight as the snow turned from white to gold to the pale rose of Alpenglow, and took photograph after photograph as the light changed and became ever more astonishing every moment. I was beyond happy. I was enchanted.

And then night fell at last.

15 September 2006 – College Fjord: The Day of Blue Silence

No champagne this morning at breakfast, but we did share a table with a couple – she’s Italian, he’s from London, and they live in Vancouver now, and when we exhanged the usual pleasantries she exclaimed that the book she had brought along to read on this trip was… “The Secrets of Jin Shei”.

Better than champagne, that, actually.

But breakfast was… interesting, seeing as the seas were far rougher today than they had been all that glorious previous day in Glacier Bay. We had woken to quite a definite yawing and pitching movement which we could distinctly feel as we lay in bed, and rdeck was, back on the lower decks where the wind wasn’t quite so biting, and I was gibbering.

“Did you see it? Did you hear it? Did you see it calve? Did you hear the crack? Did you…? Did you?”

“I saw it,” he said, a pool of quiet serenity into which I poured my vivid excitement.

And I was crying all over again, dammit.

I know one thing for certain. I have seen many things in my time, and been many places – but this place is a heart’s home. It is here, in the memory of the Inside Passage and the College Fjord where I will henceforth seek rest for my spirit.

Gallery to be updated with pictures shortly.
Tags: alaska, travel

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