Yeah. I said it. I love dirt.
Rather, I love silt. Glacial silt to be specific. Glacial silt is velvety, the granules are so small that it is more like a powder, or talc. A few weekends ago, Jena and I went out to the Matanuska Glacier. Watching someone who has never seen a glacier before (other than in photographs and videos) standing atop one is a a great experience.
Something changes in a person when they witness something so gigantic beneath their feet. Something that has seen so much history. Something that starts as a light, ephemeral snow flake. It is hard to conceive that that same snow flake can slice through a mountain, carve valleys, and transform a landscape completely over many millennia. The things that glacier has witnessed; ice ages, devastating earthquakes, volcanoes erupting then becoming dormant and repeating the cycle. Forests growing from grasslands newly seeded, then plowed over by the advancing ice sheet. Ancient people. Mammoth, sabre toothed tigers, and gazelles on a continent that would become known as North America. We are but a flash in a pan compared to the enduring legacy of the glacier.
If we are lucky, we may walk this land for 100 years. Many glaciers are several thousands of years old. Sometimes, they are much older. As the snow falls in the mountains, it is compressed over time by later flurries and blizzards. When there is enough weight, the snow is compressed and becomes ice. The weight of the ice is pulled down hill. If there is enough weight and enough ice, it will level/carve/grind through anything in its way.
As the ice sheet flows down over rock and earth, mountains are ground down to large boulders, rocks, pebbles, then into silt. These pieces are carried along on top of and within the ice strata. Finally, when the ice reaches the end of its journey, the silt is flushed away from melt water and deposited for miles in front of the glacier. Sometimes, hundreds of miles from its source.
The patterns glacial silt take on can be mesmerizing; swirls, strata, etchings, dunes and channels. The variety is endless, as are the colors and textures. It’s a playground for intimate landscape photographs – not quite macros, and not landscapes. These are the remnants of ancient mountain ranges, from lands that were never witnessed by human eyes.
Standing atop the Matanuska Glacier, I reached down and cradled a small fistful of damp silt in my right hand. In that moment, I held a mountain and stood atop the ruins of countless others.