Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ouch, I'm Holding a Glacier

As I posted last, we were off to Alaska for a family vacation, and now we're back, and frankly, the weather in both places was depressingly similar . . . although here in Massachusetts we have had way more rain. The day we went for a hike next to Mendenhall Glacier, it was chilly and rainy, but we were prepared with gear (raincoats, granola bars, water, and the boyness of boys who don't care if they get wet or cold). Our guide, Kenneth, was a botanist and nature photographer, and he was invaluable for his knowledge of the native trees and plants (and he's from Austin, Texas!) and for showing us where bears poop.

It turns out that Alaska is able to sustain most cold-weather vegetables and even a few for the less-hardy zones, but as Kenneth said, "Alaskan gardeners see vegetables as a commodity, not a necessity." Grapes don't grow in Alaska, but potatoes do. Garlic grows there but not ramps. Onions grow there but not a tomato in sight. Most fresh vegetables get shipped even to the bigger cities, giving Alaska one of the nation's highest costs of living. A gallon of milk in a convenience store starts at $5.99 and goes WAY up from there.

We hiked for four hours in a group of ten people, and my boys were fascinated most by the fact that we were basically walking up a path made by a glacier a thousand years ago. The photo you see above is our midway point, at the highest part of the hike, where we stopped to see Mendenhall Glacier — and you'll notice it's blue. Glacial ice often looks blue simply because of the way light reflects from it, but up close it's pure white. As we walked back down, we stopped at the bottom at a lake with chunks of ice floating in it, and Ben was able actually to hold his own glacier:

The best part of this whole trip (and believe me, I've got tons of pictures that would illustrate this post but would bore anyone who isn't my mother to tears) was that our family got to see something that most people only read about. Not only see but feel, taste, touch, and hear — we actually got to hear a glacier calving, which is what the breaking off of the ice is called. It was really remarkable to see the ice just float away after the CRACK of the break. We didn't just sit on a beach (although now I'm quite ready for that) . . . we played, we absorbed as much of the place as we could, we enjoyed it together, and my kids learned that there's something more fun than the Wii. I'll leave you with an image of a junior botanist waiting patiently for a shot of a flower caught in a tree:

— Amy Greeman, Publicity Director

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