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Poetry Feature: Experiencing Ice

Posted on: December 17, 2016


Often tagged as the poster child of climate change, glaciers are more than the headlines and statistics depicting their demise. They are incredible pieces of the natural world to be encountered, examined and appreciated. Experiencing Ice is a collection of poems and photos compiled to offer that examination and appreciation, to peel back the jargon of recession statistics and to show the physical reality that is at stake as the world's glaciers quickly recede.

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Columbia Icefield, Alberta. [Photo] Manasseh Franklin Columbia Icefield, Alberta. [Photo] Manasseh Franklin

APPROACHING SNOW DOME

We approach the Dome,
—North America's Hydrologic Apex—
the originating moment of the Columbia,
Athabasca, and Saskatchewan rivers.

This takes hours.

Every rounded ridge
is false. Sun bores down
on snow, reflects up our nostrils.
Horizons shift
in heat mirages. We inch slowly
across a hot white ocean.

Columbia Icefield, Alberta. [Photo] Manasseh Franklin Columbia Icefield, Alberta. [Photo] Manasseh Franklin

ON THE ICEFIELD (sight unseen)

The Columbia is so vast, so white,
so completely unbothered by humans.
We see no one else, only traces: a tent bag
blown in wind, a pair of gloves pinned
under moraine rock. We see only
snow, rock and sun for miles.

We are blinded by this vastness;
we think it perpetual like
water pouring from its glaciers
and through city faucets,
this endless supply of water to refine
the endless supply of oil extracted from Tar Sands
and consumed by the millions of barrels each day,
this endless flow to be harnessed (for power)
for hydroelectricy, for the hungry needs
of millions of (growing numbers of) people
throughout North America.

No, because this icefield feels infinite
and so does our time
but that just isn't so.

Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. [Photo] Manasseh Franklin Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. [Photo] Manasseh Franklin

APPROACHING GREWINGK I

The coldness of the water
seeped through raft bottoms,
shrunk the air molecules that filled them
so that we sunk, slightly.
We silently paddled
toward the glacier, our
rafts skirting
back and forth like
snake tails.

Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. [Photo] Manasseh Franklin Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. [Photo] Manasseh Franklin

APPROACHING GREWINGK II

From the shore, the glacier had not appeared
particularly far, and its face
not particularly tall.
But now, within 20 yards,
it towered ominously above
our heads. A hard current pulsed
from beneath the ice, pushing us back
as we tried to push forward.
Metallic clouds gathered above
threatening at any moment
to break.

Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska. [Photo] Manasseh Franklin Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska. [Photo] Manasseh Franklin

IN THE ICE CAVE

Water seeped from ice bowls
in the ice ceiling, streamed down
the ice walls. Our voices echoed
over a creek coursing through
the middle of the cave. We held up
our hands, pressed them into ice walls

the cold of the walls biting our skin

our palms and fingertips
temporary human imprints.

Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. [Photo] Manasseh Franklin Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. [Photo] Manasseh Franklin

CLIMBERS ON EXIT

Far below our perch
on the edge of the glacier,
climbers gathered like
ants on the ice. We watched them,
their pixilated figures
the smallest pieces
of the picture.

Are you afraid of glaciers?
she asked.
I shook my head—
Are you?
I'm terrified.

she replied sofly.
They're so dangerous. Unknown.
I'm afraid of the unknown.

Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. [Photo] Manasseh Franklin Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. [Photo] Manasseh Franklin

ON THE EDGE OF THE HARDING

Here is vastness to ponder:
a field of ice
stretched 7 long miles
punctuated intermittently only
with pyramid-shaped markers
—nunataks

Here is a place to contemplate
beginnings and endings, our human ones
and those of the ice. Our years (collectively) pale
to that of the ice of the earth of the rocks and the soil.

This vastness will stretch beyond my sight
far longer than I am conscious to see it.

Teton Range, Wyoming. [Photo] Manasseh Franklin Teton Range, Wyoming. [Photo] Manasseh Franklin

FINDING TETON GLACIER

Water trickled through soft ice
studded with multicolored rock,
punctuated the air with muffled steady
rhythms. I imagined ice filling this cirque
as it did 1000s of years ago, the whole valley
swollen with slowly cascading ice, all the way
to what now is the town of Jackson.

A chilled breeze
blew off the glacier,
brushed my neck.

In that cirque, we stood
in the past, the present, the future.

We stood in the presence of a frozen being
we knew would soon
be frozen no longer.

Manasseh Franklin had her first glacier encounter on the Wosnesenski Glacier in Alaska. After spending several days skiing on the glacier and then rafting its melt to the salt water estuary of Kachemak Bay, she made it her mission to make the incredible experience of glaciers more visible to the general public. Since then, her work has taken her through a Masters of Fine Arts program at the University of Wyoming, and to ice in Alaska, Canada and the remaining glaciated regions of the Lower 48. You can find more on her adventures at glaciersinmotion.wordpress.com.

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