I rather enjoy the charming oddities of this place. I’m in a little pass-through town called Greymouth. I can’t imagine why you would choose to live here. It would be like choosing to live in Buttonwillow in between Los Angeles and San Jose. Nothing remarkable about either place, except that you’d be very well known amongst the locals, and I suppose there’s something to be said for being known.
Today was both magical and mundane. I started my morning vying for a shower in the public toilets of the youth hostel. I scored one in time, and even had a spare moment to have coffee before gearing up for the glacier hike. Then I flew in a helicopter to the midway point on a glacier, to witness nature in its finest hour, and climbed up even higher to see some spectacular blue snow, crushed by weight and by movement to expel every last bit of air until it turns blue, just as you would if you held your breath. Imagine a huge mountain holding its breath. I dare you not to sigh deeply at the end of that thought.
I don’t know why I imagined a glacier to be more like an iceberg, but that’s what I pictured in my head. I saw us taking off from a seaside cliff and landing on a gigantic block of frozen snow just off the coast. Should a ship like the Titanic sail too close, all we’d have to do is wave our arms madly to steer them back on course, assuming these newfangled ships could now steer like race cars. It’s silly if I think about it now, but it made sense before this adventure.
As you can see from the pictures, this glacier, and I imagine many just like it, are frozen snow packs on top of mountains. It’s like the snow has taken over, much like the movie Frozen, and covered the rock underneath. And, in many places, there was no rock underneath until all of the dirt over many, many years got smashed together into stone by the glacier, creating mountains and land—earth as we know it.
It’s awesome to behold, this gigantic snow mass. You can feel it slick and blue under your feet, which are bound into crampons to bite into the snow and keep you upright. There’s an order to the bindings, rules about how to walk, a method to the madness of treading amongst the clouds. Single file lines, follow the leader—literally in this case—lest you strike out on your own path and find yourself slipping down a mountain with nothing to stop you except whatever icy protrusions lie in your way. (Note: Don't use your crampons to stop, unless you want to break your leg.)
It’s addicting. I would have stayed up there for hours or days if given the chance. Our guide, Vince, is from England. He came to New Zealand to have an adventure and stayed. Soon he’s off to California to learn how to teach skydiving. Better than going to school for accounting, his original profession. Hell, it’s better than advertising, which can be hard to beat sometimes in terms of amusements and glory. I assured Vince that he would love California. He replied that he wanted to try a Chipotle burrito. I laughed and asked him to go to San Francisco and have a Mission-style burrito instead, or at least in addition to one from Chipotle, and he filed that away with my other advice to go to Muir Woods and Venice Beach if he can. Hopefully he tries some of my suggestions when he gets there. At least I know the burrito situation will be better than New Zealand's version of Mexican food, even if he just visits Chipotle. (Note 2: No, I haven't tried the Mexican here. I'm way too foodie and Californian for that. But a girl I met on the ferry through Milford Sound had attempted to satisfy a craving for it and told me what she ate tasted like Italian food, not Mexican. Go figure. Nary a Mexican in sight for thousands of kilometers.)
The Franz Joseph Glacier is receding. That huge black rock you see only happened in the past six years. The snow began to melt, chunked off, and slowly revealed a little black spot. Cut to six years later and the entire front of the glacier has sheered away, leaving the black hole in the middle, snowless and dark. If anyone doesn’t believe in global warming or climate change, I just walked all over evidence of it today. Take that, skeptics.
At the beginning of our trip this morning the ice was hard and slippery. We had to stomp our feet to get the teeth of the crampons to sink in and hold us as we walked. As the sun moved and warmed up the snow, it broke up like rock candy beneath our feet and became far easier to walk on. Sometimes the chunks sparkled like uncut diamonds in the sunlight. You could hear a gentle trickle of water the entire time we were up there. The snow melts and runs in rivulets down the glacier. The tiny streams gather together and slowly form a river that runs across the ice, looping around curves and through the caves it carves over time. If there's a fast way down the mountain, the water has found it. At one point we stopped to taste the glacial fresh water. It tasted like delicious, cold water, the kind people pay up to $5 dollars for here. It's so damn expensive, it's insane. At least the quality is high overall.
When we stopped, I joked with Vince that we should have brought a Snoopy Snow Cone Maker up there with us. He didn't get the 70s reference, but he enjoyed the idea of it. I imagined a little set up like kids do with lemonade stands in front of their houses on the side of the road. It would be so funny, so unexpected up there. I'm sure we'd make a killing, especially if we combined it with Lucy's trademark psychiatry offerings for just 5 cents. The doctor is: IN.
There's a dampened quiet to the glacier; like being in the mountains with a thick blanket of snow and ice silencing any echoes. Even the helicopter sounds disappear as you walk away from them.
If I haven’t expressed it sufficiently, this was the very best decision I could have made. Quitting, the act of leaving that which is wrong in order to make things right, was utterly perfect. IS utterly perfect. It continues to be so. I feel alive in every moment, in the now, in this single second I can feel myself being okay, gaining traction and climbing out of the broken space into health and wellbeing. My fractured heart and aggrieved soul are healing. I will be alright. That I can even utter those words is medicinal, because I did this. I fixed it. I took care of myself.
I feel so far away from my old life. It's weird to know that all of my friends are back there, possibly reading this. I tried so hard to protect them from the bad seeds that grew the company they work for, but in the end I realized that I both couldn't protect them, and shouldn't. It's their journey too, and they will sort things out just as I've done. Still, the mother hen in me is sad that I couldn't help them more. Or perhaps I did and I just don't know it?
On the way back from Milford Sound, sitting next to Gustavo, the beautiful Brazilian man, we had a long talk about faith and trust and taking care of ourselves. He'd done something similar to my journey, leaving his old profession in finance and switching to his new career in doing IT for the Brazilian government. He was thrilled at the change, and he understood my need to take this leap. In the course of our conversation, he mentioned this scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He saw the faith Indy needed as religious, I see it as personal, but the meaning remains: On this road sometimes you have to leap, and in its way, the net shall appear.
Strangely similar to this:
Fortune favors the brave, after all.