Crossing the Moraine


Even though the glacial moraine looks like it is posing for a Christmas card, I would prefer to listen to Irish rather than holiday music while crossing it today. A Carolan harp piece would work best, maybe “Bridget Cruise” played on a hammer dulcimer. That gentle love long would calm down the excited caused by the sparkling beauty driven by sunlight on frost.


Without a quiet waltz we are racing on trails through alder thickets that offer occasional views of mountains or the glacier. Aki trots at the heals of a human friend while I follow close behind.


Our friend stops to touch a willow branch coated with dense crystals and tells me that they are formed from condensed vapor released by the willow. I place the tip of the branch in my mouth and pull off its icy coat. It tastes faintly of willow.


While the vapor crystals are almost clear, like water from a mountain stream, nearby hoar frost feathers are white and striated. They form patterns on dead grass stalks and other things on the moraine that can no longer breathe. Some are scattered on patches of clear ice as if they fell from the wings of a winter bird.


We push on, crossing recently frozen streams, to Mendenhall Lake. Ice covers it and has almost silenced the nearby Nugget Falls. Across the lake, a low hill of rock rounded by the retreating glacier is white with new frost. Above all is a cloudless blue sky offering a simple background for winter’s multifaceted work.


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