Kelly had a milestone birthday a few years back and requested (demanded) we go on a cruise in Alaska. I reluctantly (enthusiastically) agreed.
We could not afford this trip when we booked it.
But it is because of this questionable fiduciary decision that I got to travel by a floating luxe hotel for seven nights.
It is because of this decision I saw my first whales and moose (and the noble ptarmigan).
And it is because of this decision that Kelly and I were awoken a little earlier than advertised because the captain was granted rare approach clearance to our destination that morning. The mouth of the Hubbard glacier.
The scale of glaciers actually hurts my brain a bit, and that’s not the point of this reflection.
What is remarkable about glaciers is the literal movement. Glaciers calve constantly (especially during the daytime sunlight, and ESPECIALLY climate change, but that’s another hurty-brain topic and an aside for now). Conceptually this is fine. Knowing glaciers are always moving is a fine thing to think in your head and to know is a thing that happens.
But then you see the glacier field…
The recently calved pieces break into asteroids of various ancient ice layers and mix into the sea waters of the inlet. Even from six or seven miles away we could see icebergs the size of large city buses.
And then they were starting to measure up to deck 5 or 6. And these were the pieces floating above the surface.
From six or so miles away the glacier looked like a few of the other glaciers we’d seen... beautiful, but sort of unfathomable. Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau has receded nearly out of visible sight of the visitor center so it was cool, but also sort of sad?
Glacier side fact #1: Some glacier recession has opened up millions of acres of arable land developed into commercial and working class residential areas to spur population growth. This is probably not a totally good thing…)
By the time we were three miles from the edge of the glacier it dawned on the small village of people I was floating along with just how fucking big this glacier was.
The captain and his crew steered the ship in a full 720 degree circle (that’s two times ya’ll…) so we could check for calving ice shelves. And we were not disappointed.
The sound is chilling. The cracking of thunder as mid-rise buildings calve off this unending wall of ice.
True Night Watch vibes.
Glacier side fact #2: While many glaciers are, predictably and infuriatingly, receding, some are actually advancing. This sounds like it probably isn’t a good thing either.
It’s impossible to properly describe the simultaneous feeling of joy at being one of the few humans to witness this spectacle, but also to feel so absolutely miniscule in the scale and scope of nature. These eons-old ice floes remain in motion continuously, only to eventually march into the all-consuming inky blackness of the ocean.
At least the ice pieces literally go out with a bang.
Glacier side fact #3: Glacial silt is a mineral rich substrate that collects in riverbeds all over Alaska. During low tides these mud flats are tempting to roam around on, but are essentially quicksand, and claim many lives.
I guess I’m searching for something more poetic in that moment than there was.
It felt momentous. Epic. And yet it was a thing that happened every day continually for all of primate history (this is bigger than us, you guys). The slow, dogged, assuredness of nature.
By noon we were sailing off to the next unfathomable spectacle on the trip.
*** I haven’t decided which shift I prefer: days or nights.
Days feel somewhat familiar. I work hard all morning but then I get home in time to sit for a moment and decompress before I get dinner ready for when Kelly gets home (apparently Kelly brags about this arrangement, lol).
Nights are an adjustment. I clocked out at 10:35, and now at just a few minutes before 1:00 a.m. I’m just now starting to feel it’s time to go to sleep.
I obviously remember staying up nights. But I really got used to that 9:45 bed time (seriously you guys it’s really amazing to get sleep if you can)
I also like nights. They’re peaceful. They feel familiar.
I’m sure I will become accustomed even to the unpredictability. For now though it’s all part of the adjustment process. And boy I’m adjusting.
Buying new shoes was the first move. Buying enough slacks to stay comfortable and uniform compliant, the immediate next step. Kelly dug out an old lunch bag. I’m stocking up on quick snacks for when I have a water break and can fill my face with energy. I even got some choice use out of my specially embroidered Daywalkerz towel.
I’m learning the ropes. Meeting the people. Doing my best to make a positive impact. It’s all I can do.
Up until now the movement in my career transition has felt impossibly slow. I’m now feeling like not only am I back in motion but I’m starting to pick up speed. The work isn’t quite as romantic as I imagined it, but it also kind of is?
And it’s been super fun being excited to get up in the morning this past week.
All that said, it’s been quite the week. A taste of day and night shifts, a trip to Ravinia with my mom and Kelly after nearly two years of not going to concerts, watching my cousins marry off their son in a lovely ceremony. And now, instead of facing the rest of my day, for a change… i’m turning in for the night.
All the best on your journeys, reader!
Jonathan “Doc Wattson”
The Native Stranger