As we drift along the seno at one knot, Martin and I discuss the differences between growlers, bergy bits, and icebergs. Growlers are less than 1 metre across. Bergy bits are between 1 and 10 metres, and icebergs are anything above 10 metres.
There aren’t any icebergs here, but the ice flows have gotten so thick that we can’t avoid all the growlers anymore, hence the breakneck speed. Inside the cabin of Otra Vida, the sound of each collision thunks loudly. Don’t think too hard about the Titanic. We’ve got the anchor dragging in the water to absorb some of the impact. We’re heading for the tidewater glacier face at the end of the western arm, but we’ll never make it. Soon the ice will thicken even more, and there won’t be enough space left between the bergy bits for us to continue.
The day is hardly wasted, though. The emerald green silted water is perfectly calm, and although there are clouds overhead, sun gleams off the glacier’s surface in the distance. The reflections in the space between ice has the quality of a dream.
Looking over the side, tiny brash ice swirls slowly in the tide and in our wake. It’s like sailing through a kaleidoscope. “I must be high,” I tell Martin. But all I have in the way of a buzz is the slight hangover from last night’s conversation that stretched on into the early morning. This is just how it is out here— perfect.
The air is full of the clicks and crackles or air being released for the first time in a millennia as the ice melts, floating slowly out to sea.
The glacier is a sort of religious experience. I want to touch it, so I do, even though everything I know about it says “stay back.” Quiet music comes from the mass itself— water dripping through its insides like the keys on the far right of an old piano, and wind whistling over the hollows where trapped air has escaped, like a thousand ephemeral flutes. It’s cold, wet and covered in gritty sand, but when I look closely, I see crystals, and behind them more crystals, all the way to oblivion, somewhere above the clouds.
It’s unusually warm and not raining, but the clouds are low. I know that somewhere above me, it is the peaks of the Cordillera Darwin that all of what is around me descends from, but I can only imagine them.
On the other side of the bay, I hear the icefall crack like thunder and notice that the light is beginning to fade. We are either too far south or too far into fall for flowers— the plants are different now, so on the way back from the glacier’s snout, I collect wild grasses, yellow autumn leaves, and plants that have dried and gone to seed for our vase. I make my way back to the anchored dinghy and out to Otra Vida, where Martin waits for me.
We make our way back through the ice flow for a few miles, and as the sun sets, we drop our anchor in Caleta Beaulieu, where we can still see the tongue of the tidewater glacier. We drink some fine scotch with ice plucked from the water and go to bed.
The next morning, the clouds have lifted. “Good morning,” Martin says to me, “You should go outside when you’re ready.”
I catch a glimpse of it out the window. Quickly, I put on some socks, a hat and a sweater. I grab a cup of coffee and go outside.
I drink all of my coffee and still I’m not ready to go back in, despite it not being far above zero degrees. The peaks are incredible in their depth, their colours, their size, the elegance and their power. But it’s hard to concentrate on them. A thin sheet of ice has formed over the emerald water, creating crystals that look just like translucent paper snowflakes. The chunks of ice floating away from the glacier are now frozen in place.
I think I see a little white shell on the ocean floor, but I’m confused because the water is so silted. It turns out to be a reflection of the moon. Like everything else, it is perfectly reflected.
Behind me, a waterfall gurgles, and somewhere, birds call to each other. I imagine the glacier’s song, just beyond where I can hear it. A breeze comes imperceptibly across the water, making all the mountains dance.
How will I ever come back from this?