Monday, October 3, 2011

The Ice Cave of Long Ago

The deep blue, the light coming through the end of the tunnel, turning the years of compressed snow into solid ice, filled my head with its wonders.

We could hear the rumble of the glacier above us, as it inched its way down the steep mountain, torrents of milky glacial melt roaring across the ice and dirty snowpack. My tennis shoed feet were soaked, and my sweatshirt barely kept me warm, as we trudged up the rocky path and onto the hard packed snow and ice.

Soon, my dad hoisted me on his shoulders, so I could keep up with everyone else, and thaw out my feet, as we climbed the mountain a bit, above the lodge, headed for the ice caves. Bright sunlight reflected off the white snow and ice, making me squint. I shivered in the cold wind coming down the mountain, chilled by the mountain of ice and snow, and the thin air of this barren land above timberline.

We soon reached the entrance to the deep caves, icy water dripping and flowing down its solid walls, turned blue by the early summer sunlight, penetrating the clear ice, giving an eerie light to this opening into the glacier. Out of the wind, it was surprisingly warm, my ears filled with the dripping and gushing of freshly melted water. The rivulets of water under my dad’s feet were milky white with rock flour from the glacier’s slow scraping and grinding of the mountain rock.

When we were all inside, Dad lowered me down to the ground, and I put my hand into the icy glacier melt, and touched the blue ice of the cave walls. The deep blue light colored everything here, and I felt the smoothness of the pebbles, and the deep cold of the water flowing over my hands.

I remember our guide talking about glaciers and how the winter snows packed the snow crystals tighter and tighter, squeezing out the air and the space between the molecules, until the weight of years of winter snow created the walls of blue that surrounded us, inside the mountain. He talked about how the sunlight became bent as it entered the ice, filtering out some of the colors of the sunlight, and bending different frequencies of the light, until our eyes could only notice the blue.

And, he talked about how the sky does the same thing, so that our eyes think that the sky is blue, when it really is white, and has all the spectrum of all the wavelengths. It all made sense to me that day, how we see light, and how the weight of snow pushes out the air, and makes clear ice out of fluffy snow that had fallen ten, twenty, a hundred years before. And, how the mountain would spew out lava and ash, and then the snow would fall, and how the glaciers would gouge and erode the hard rock, turning it into milky sediment, flowing down to the rivers and forests below the mountain, all the way to the sea.

I was three years old, but I remember the guide talking about this and how I knew all that he was saying made so much sense, and how amazing the world was. This mountain of hot lava and ash, and then long dark winters of snow and ice making, and the melting of summer, and the seasons of the rivers, and the salmon that swam in them, and came up the rivers to spawn, in the same place that they started life, all made sense to me.

We came out of that cave, back into the bright sunlight of that June day, so many years ago, and sat down on the snow and slid back down to the mountain lodge, our butts getting soaking wet and frozen from the ice and the snow.

The guide had brought some squares of canvas, so we could sit on them and slide down the mountain. And, I laughed, thinking of how that sounded like so much fun, and it was funny that the adults would think so, too. I laughed when I saw my mom and my dad and my brother sit down on the canvas and slide, and watched them play, just like kids.

And, I laughed and laughed as we slid, enjoying the cold and the wet and the sunlight on the bright white of the snow, and watched the big logs and rough shingles of the lodge getting closer and closer to us, as we slid down the mountain, the guide holding me in front of him, as we slid down the mountain together, his deep voice laughing into the cold air.

That night, as I snuggled deep into my sleeping bag, after we had roasted some marshmallows around the campfire, I dreamed of that big blue cave, and the cycle of how the mountain came to be and how the snow and the ice were changing things, and how the salmon would find their way back home every year. And, it all made sense to me, and everything was in order.

Years later, I’d tell my mom and my dad and my brother about that day, and they all shook their heads.

“You were too young to remember,” they’d say.

But, I did remember, and I wasn’t too young. And, when I go back there and walk up the trails, some fifty plus years later, I can still see that guide and hear him tell his stories, as we walked up that big, cold mountain. I can still feel the cold and see the clearness of that glacial ice, and how the sunlight got bent a bit, turning blue.

And I am amazed at the wonder of the snow, and the salmon, and the ice and the light in that blue cave, and the wonders of the world, seen through the eyes of a three year old boy.

1 comment:

Stephen Hayes said...

A wonderful story. It's amazing how far back we can remember. I find that the more I write about my childhood the more I remember.

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