thursday, july 28 was a very big day. it had to have been, to have contained all it did. i didn’t realize its incredible size until i returned to my room in the evening and was faced with the task of discerning where all the adrenaline and endorphins had come from. the things that happened, however, are better told as part of larger stories, rather than as part of one day, so the next few blog posts will be concerned with those stories.

to begin, an event mostly contained in that one day:

since a few days after my arrival in haines, i have been awaiting an experience that i tried to expel from my conscious anticipation. this was to avoid getting overly-excited should it not happen, and not to build it up too much if it should. the experience? a flight with paul, of mountain flying service. a flight in a four person bush hawk plane to see the glaciers and mountains in and around glacier bay national park. i got a call in the early afternoon from the former innkeeper, who is currently working for mountain flying, saying there might be space on a 3 o clock flight. a few hours later, i received a call that i was in – and we were leaving at 2:45! i began walking towards the office where she picked me up and we drove out to the haines airport. the belgian couple with whom i was gratefully sharing the flight arrived and we admired paul’s shiny red plane.

paul helped us in, made sure we were all buckled in. i rode in the passenger’s seat (if it’s called that in a plane. i won’t presume to say co-pilot’s seat). we all placed headsets over our ears – big headphones with little microphones attached. i felt like a cross between a jet fighter and being back at work taking orders at the mcdonald’s drive thru.

take off and landing in a plane that small are very inconsequential, i was expecting it to be much rockier than a jet, but it was like being in a go-cart that sprouted wings.

as we began heading northwest i recognized the landscape falling out below us. but not for long. soon we had entered the mountains and were gazing out the large windows at rivers, lakes, mountains and GLACIERS. i had seen a few glaciers from the land, from a distance. and i had seen pictures. what i saw from that perspective was impossible for me to imagine from those pieces. even now, i can scarcely remember the scope of being in the air, not above, but between the mountains, surrounded by spruce and snow and silt and glaciers spanning for miles. never have i seen blue so bright as that ice, even in an electric sign.

and we delved deeper into the mountains, approaching mount fairweather (which ironically couldn’t really be seen because of clouds) which has an elevation of over fifteen thousand feet. paul explained why the surface of some of the glaciers are striped with dark and light. when two glaciers meet at the tip of a mountain and slowly grind it as they meet and merge, they take some of the mountain with them, slowly carrying it away. eventually we moved out of the mountains, still working around them, and followed the along the coast of glacier bay, where glaciers were calving into tropic colored water. i didn’t even realize we were almost back to haines til i saw it before us. the mountains i can see out the kitchen window are simply the gateway to wonders i had barely conceived. i now feel a most holy greed when i see them set before the ranges i have laid eyes on.

when flying between england and italy i was almost in tears from the majesty of the alps breaking through the clouds and spreading out as far as i could see in either direction beneath me. when driving along the skirts of alaskan and canadian ranges, my joy was effervescent weaving in and around and along the varied and seemingly endless peaks. when on this glacial flight, i experienced the marriage of these two experiences of mountains. i do not know how to put it into words and i have avoided looking at the photographs i took for fear of breaking the spell that landscape worked within me.

in the plane i kept gaping and laughing and sighing, telling paul he has the best job in the world. i need to get a pilot’s license. about a third of all alaskans do. now i see why. i am not afraid constant exposure would numb me to the land, but that i might one day decide to land and never return, homesteading in the path of a glacier.

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