The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By Josie Braaten
Casual Observations 

For the Love of Glaciers

 

August 2, 2017



Being the bad Montanans that we are, my mom and I went to Glacier National Park for the first time ever only a few weeks ago. Over our depressingly short three days in the park, we hiked until we could physically go no further, practically crawling back to our car every night, yet absolutely gleeful about our adventure. Our routes took us to literally breathtaking glacial overlooks, through meadows of alpine wildflowers, alongside a family of bighorn sheep, to the source of exquisitely raging waterfalls, and through a honest-to-God fairy garden of a forest. I was absolutely dazzled, not only by the superb beauty, but also by simply the atmosphere of Glacier itself. Being in the midst of such a vast and varied wilderness was so peaceful, yet energizing and had the most remarkable cleansing effect on my muddled 20ish-year-old soul.

By the end of our second day, I was thoroughly sealed inside a little bubble of starry-eyed awe of all things Glacier, camping, and hiking, and my mind zinged happily between reliving the hike we had just completed and planning our trek for the following day. It was in this shining bubble that I floated into one of Glacier’s endless gift shops behind my mom. As she chatted with the clerks about kayak rentals, she was suspiciously interested in finding an activity that could be done while sitting. I drifted around the store watching other tourists buy stuffed mountain goats and huckleberry chocolates. It was during this aimless drifting, that a series of photos at the back of the shop caught my eye, and I wandered closer to get a better look.

As soon as my mind was able to process what my eyes were seeing, my heart did a hiccup, and a queasy feeling began to wash over me. My little bubble of bliss popped, and suddenly I was staring down reality. The photos were of Glacier’s most famous glaciers, both in 1940 and in 2016. 1940 showed massive glaciers, almost completely covering the valleys they were nestled in. Gleaming white, solid, and so permanent looking, they left no question at all why the park had been named after them. In 2016 though, those same glaciers told a very different story. Extremely diminished, they covered barely 40 percent of the valleys they rested in. No longer were they majestic slabs, ready to survive for a few more centuries. Compared to the photos from 1940, they were thin, dirty sheets; sick and tired, that looked like one more summer might just finish them off.

My thoughts whirred, a hive of frenzied bees in my mind. Of course I knew that global warming was a thing and I understood that the warmer temperatures were causing glaciers and ice bergs across our planet to melt at a highly accelerated rate. However, these were things that I knew of from the convenient distance of documentaries and news articles and were happening in places like Greenland and Antarctica, not somewhere a mere six-hour drive from home. Those photos staring back at me in black and white though, proved otherwise.

Suddenly I was hyper aware of the stunningly beautiful glaciers I had just looked down upon the day before, steadily shrinking by centimeters, melting slowing into the mountains as I stood, gaping like a taxidermied frog. My stomach churned and my mind continued to race, calculating. If the glaciers had shrunk that much in 76 years, then they would be gone in my lifetime. Glacier National Park, then would be named after the ghosts of the majestic ice sheets that had created such beauty, and my generation would be one of the last that had gotten to see the glaciers before they went extinct.

For the rest of the weekend those photos were jaggedly sharp in my mind, a constant agonizing reminder of the fragility of the beautiful environment which I had only just been introduced too. As I took in the beauty surrounding me, the realization of the mortality of what I was seeing leaked in, tainting my previous blissful enjoyment of the park through which I was roaming. Such wilderness seems so incredibly vast and untouchable, but it is truly at our mercy with no way to escape.

Beyond being fantastically lovely and integral to a healthy soul, our natural environment enables us to survive. We have the ability to care for it, but that doesn’t mean anything if we can’t find the will to give our Earth the proper care it requires. Then if we don’t give it that care, it’s simple. Our race will go the way of the glaciers we didn’t care enough about to save. The earth will only take care of us as well as we take care of it.

Josie Braaten is the Courier's editorial intern. She is a sophmore at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

 

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