Ice Cave Pilgrimage

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I am on a pilgrimage with a poet and a memoirist, but not Aki. As is required for any worthwhile pilgrimage, we endure pain. Winds gusting to 30 miles-an-hour chill our exposed skin and push obscuring wind over the lake ice. (Aki would not have liked the wind). Because it is shrinking, we must walk farther to reach the glacier than last year.

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We are not alone. A line of other pilgrims move with us on a long, flat trail to the glacial ice cave. Another line of walkers moves away from the glacier. With the wind at their backs, sun on their faces, and fresh memories of the cave’s beauty, they should appear happy, if not transformed. But most just look cold, ready for lunch.

I had hoped that the wind would have kept the selfie seekers away. But I should know to never to underestimate the need for Facebook affirmation. This dark thought is hypocritical. I am also on this walk to photograph beauty.

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After passing through a wind funnel and climbing a small moraine hump, we reach the cave. Water drips from the icicles that form a fringe over the opening. From inside comes the sound of teenagers expressing awe. We pass through a gentle curtain of ice melt and into an aquamarine tunnel. The cave is lined with the ancient ice, some hundreds of year old; ice that traps stones ripped long ago from the bedrock. In places it is crystal clear, others as green as aquarium glass or cobalt blue.

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We pass through the cave and climb onto the glacier itself. A week of strong wind has scoured the surface ice free of snow. Here the glacier is all undulation and soft edges. Less and half-a-kilometer down the river of ice, fissures have cut the glacier face into chunks that will soon calve into bergs. Next summer I will canoe around the new icebergs, knowing that they will melt to nothingness before the next winter, wondering whether the shrinking ice cave has finally collapsed.

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