Glacial reflections

Jul 8, 2016 | 0 comments

“So what are you finding in your research?” I’m starting to get asked this question. A lot. I’ve been here just over 3 weeks now, I’ve conducted 11 interviews, and spent a good number of hours doing participant observation and transcribing. Problem is, I don’t know what I’m finding yet.  And because I keep getting asked that question, I feel like I SHOULD know what I’m finding. Yet the answer still eludes me.

Bumblebee and lupine

This past week, I’ve been fortunate enough to go out to Sheridan Glacier a couple times, which is the one glacier accessible from the Copper River Highway (do not be misled by the term “highway” — it’s actually just a dirt road). I realized recently that I tend to value hard-to-get-to places much more than I do easily-accessible places. I felt so lucky to have gotten to see Miles and Childs and Allen Glaciers a couple weeks ago out in the backcountry. Yet when my eyes fell upon Sheridan Glacier, framed by thousands of purple lupines and green, snow-capped mountains, I felt ashamed of my bias for remoteness.  One could travel hours upriver to see more isolated and larger glaciers, but nothing can compare to the colorful serenity and powerful stillness of Sheridan.


20160628_Sheridan_Waterdrop_AMW_1 Diamond-esque water droplets in lupine leaves

Crow feather


Ice reflections

The first time I went, I was taken by the colors and the reflections in the lake and the visual stimulus of the place. The second time I went, I hiked up a different part of the trail closer to the moraine, and noticed the sounds. Funny, the glacier looks so still and placid, but when you can get up close to listen, the soundscape is wholly unique from anything I’ve ever heard. A constant tinkling of ice melting upon itself, and little pieces chipping off and plunking into the meltwater with a small splash.

The classic Sheridan Glacier view

These little trips to Sheridan Glacier, and other outings to explore Cordova, have been a lifesaver out here as I try to figure out what I’m doing with my research. By its very nature, field research is isolating and difficult. The last couple interviews I had were, in some parts, incredibly raw and emotional, making me re-think my place here and my choices in what I’m studying.  And even though I’m here with a bunch of other people interested in similar things, I’m kind of still off to the side, doing my own thing, interviewing and analyzing all of this alone and hoping I’m not screwing it up or missing something important. I’m at the halfway point in my time here, three weeks down, three to go. What will happen if I don’t do this right? If I don’t interview enough people? If I don’t ask the right questions? If I don’t get enough footage? If I don’t take enough notes?  If I’m focusing on the wrong thing? If I try to make it work anyway, is that just me pushing my agenda on something that’s not meant to be? These are the questions that I keep asking myself over and over, and still don’t have an answer to. I guess I’m not supposed to have answers yet, but it’s very unsettling that this is my one and only chance to get this right, and I still am lost, staring out at this vast abyss and wondering how it fits together.
Photo_by_Brian_Amdur (2)

Photo by Brian Amdur

Some days these uncertainties torment me, but other days I can see the value in what I’m doing. I guess that’s just how it goes. Reflection and reflexivity are indispensable here, necessary to continue checking and re-checking myself, the questions I’m asking, and the conclusions I must ultimately draw.  


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