I was not supposed to be here.
This was not the plan.
I was not supposed to go inside a glacier. Nope. Not one step. I had been tricked.
And yet, here I was. Inside a sheet of ice, tens of thousands of years old. The familiar feelings of fear and awe swept over me again. And yet this time, though the scope of the glacier is big, it was the fact of time that really got me. The time it took to make this glacier - and we could see it. In the ice.
By looking at the ice, I was literally looking through time.
Our day began in Chamonix. We took a train up the hill to the Mer de Glace glacier. I had made an agreement with Spencer that we wouldn’t go into the glacier. Frankly, I didn’t even want to descend the long stairs towards it, because I had been so overwhelmed by nature on this trip and just wanted one day of comfort, haha. But when we arrived on the platform, I was fascinated by the story of how the glacier had been receding - and quite rapidly receding, over the last several years.
We started the climb down, down down, passing signs with years along the way. We quickly got into the 20th century, and before we knew it, we were making huge leaps from the years we were born to the years we graduated from high school to the year we got married. And we still had so far to go to get to the bottom.
Global warming is a real threat, but this was one of the first times I was able to see a tangible realization of that threat. This glacier that had been formed over thousands of years was rapidly shrinking because of human action. We are deep into the anthropocene now. This glacier - and the hike towards it - is proof.
And yet, I kept saying to Spencer as we hiked down, “you know I’m not going into the glacier, right?”
“Yes, yes, of course,” he kept replying.
Here’s a picture of me. Standing in the glacier.
I had to go in. I was standing outside the entrance, watching Spencer walk in (“I’ll just be a few minutes,” he said), and I knew that I’d regret it forever if I didn’t go inside. I knew that I’d look back on this moment, telling stories about it to my kids years from now, and I didn’t want to say, “I missed out. That glacier is smaller now, and you can’t even go inside it anymore.” No. That wasn’t going to happen.
I wanted to be brave. I wanted to know more.
And so I did it. I walked inside.
When we were inside the glacier, Spencer said to me, “This is like a time machine. It’s like a massive tool of the universe - water, force, time - that we are witnessing.”
And then he reached out and touched it.
“DON’T TOUCH THE GLACIER,” I shouted, in a whisper not to attract attention.
Ever aware of the fact of time represented in these walls of ice, all of the sudden, as I watched his hand move towards the carved ice, I realized that there was more than just water inside. There is air. Minerals. Maybe even animals. And terrifyingly, what about disease?
I laugh now at the thought, but still don’t know to this day if something like that could survive the time, force, pressure, and temperature of a glacier this old.
Either way, I still made him use hand sanitizer!