During an artist residency in Alaska, I had the opportunity to explore a glacier, to walk on it day after day and observe the details of it… and then to return home to read about the geology of the region and of glaciers. The result of these experiences — research and exploration and creation — is this glacier-shaped book that uses the metaphor of glacial flow as a means of understanding personal change, and of coming to terms with where we’ve come from in our lives and where we are going. This project began as a piece of writing, and I initially assumed it would remain exactly that, no less and no more… but believe it is stronger for having found a book form that reinforces the content and flow of the words, of my life, and of the glacier.
The main text block of the book uses a wire-edge binding, and the pieces that form the folded mountain-shaped covers are attached with hand-made brass hinges.
The complete text of the book is underneath the image gallery, below.
Tell me how the glacier moves, while looking like it doesn’t. How many years ago, scientists put boulders in a line as markers across the surface of the ice, returning later to find evidence of downhill flow, to find that things that look solid weren’t where they had left them.
Tell me how your life is like that glacier, and the markers of movement in your own life are two plane tickets to Alaska, seven years apart. How you stood in the same place on the glacier, which was not the same ice as before, and realize that you are not the same you who stood here seven years ago, yearning to return before even having left.
Tell me how the layers of ice move over one another, how the depths remain solid while the brittle surface cracks and fractures, implying a false sense of deep instability. How you’ve remained unwaveringly true to yourself, but mistake the brittle fissured surface of your life for the condition of the core. The solid core flows. The fractured surface flows. Life flows. The glacier flows. Time flows. Down the valley, persistently yet imperceptibly downward, under its own weight, impelled by gravity. You can’t see it move. You can’t stop it from moving.
Tell me what the view is like from the edges, of your life and of the glacier. How you stood on the edge of the ice and watched and watched and thought that nothing had happened. Not knowing yet that the movement is too slow to see, that the center moves faster than the edges. Not knowing yet that watching is not enough, that change is change, even if it cannot be seen. From the edge of your own life no shifts are visible either. They have happened too deeply and slowly for you to notice.
Tell me about the surface of the glacier, about the ice that resembles clouds seen from an airplane window, about the rivulets of meltwater running beneath your feet. You walk across the undulating bluish-white expanse, imagining yourself an improbable giant traversing a miniature winter landscape: each icy bump a snowy mountain peak, each tiny stream of debris and meltwater a broad braided river flowing to a distant imaginary sea, each echoing landform creating a sense of unity within the shifting, impermanent features of the earth and sky and ice and snow and cloud and atmosphere and your life.
The ice of the glacier is a rock. Geology books tell you this, tell you that the glacier is not just frozen water in the ordinary sense; they tell you this to your surprise. It is metamorphic rock, which begins as snow and is transformed through pressure, stress, flow, and recrystallization into glacial ice. Tiny snow crystals become large glacier ice crystals. What did you start as? What have extensive pressure and stress done to you? To the disparate elements that you have tried to assemble into a self? You have undergone your own metamorphosis, as improbable as snow into rock, and hopefully into something as solid.
Tell me about the debris that you’ve carried along with you as you’ve advanced across the landscape of your life. When can you set it down? Even glaciers cast off what they can no longer carry, depositing their burdens of rock and silt upon the land when they melt. But you: you need not wait until the terminus of your life to set your burdens down. For you are not a glacier.
Tell me about going to the toe of the glacier and dipping your own toes in the meltwater at the base, then looking long along your legs and beyond, toward the edge of the ice: extending the end of yourself toward the end of the glacier, yet it is not the end. And you know this. The glacier is about the glacier, but also about me and you and time and life and everything we think is permanent but that is actually flowing, changing, moving, melting.
Tell me how the glacier is receding, melting, not just flowing but disappearing. As you are, as I am, as life is, a bit at a time, despite looking as solid and enduring and unmoving as ever. It flows, it moves, it dissipates. And this is why you need those markers -- to know what has moved and how and when, to know how two trips to Alaska allowed you to see the flow of your own life, to know where you have been, where you are now, where you are going.
In the end, you had to return to the glacier in order to understand that you didn’t need to do so, in order to learn that what you thought you could find there and only there is what you already are and already have. You stand at the toe of the glacier, at the edge of the water that used to be ice, at the edge of the stillness that used to be movement, where the glacier ends and the rest of your life begins. Coming back was thus less important and more necessary than you could have known.