On the Adoption of Rocks

On the Adoption of Rocks

Joel Wilner, Middlebury College

Those who come to the Juneau Icefield often have distinct motivations. Some come for the adventure, others for the pursuit of knowledge; many for both. To get away from the neon screens and nine-to-fives of “normal” life is as good a reason as any. But invariably, one motivation touches all: the innate desire to let nature envelop oneself; to allow rain and ice and wind pierce the inside of the skin and flow; pulsing deep and through.

And then some want to literally take nature with them and become the adoptive parents of nature.

Meet Balboa the rock. JIRPers Tadhg Moore and James O’Neil found Balboa on last Thursday’s day hike to the Herbert Glacier. They were stunned when they found the little guy sitting by a stream near the glacier’s terminus, lost and freezing cold.

  Tadhg (left) and James (right) show Balboa to his first proglacial lake. Photo by author.

Tadhg (left) and James (right) show Balboa to his first proglacial lake. Photo by author.

Balboa revealed his amazing story to Tadhg and James. He was born many millions of years ago in a vastly different landscape. Balboa doesn’t remember a whole lot from those days. He also doesn’t know much about his birth parents, other than that they were probably of a very similar chemical composition and geological origin as him – as the saying goes, the rock doesn’t fall far from the rock (unless you’re a glacial erratic). Then, after the end of a recent glacial advance, he was deposited, rolling off from the Herbert, his host glacier. He plucked up the courage to go off on his own.

“Balboa certainly has a well-rounded personality,” Tadhg told me. “He might seem to be hard-headed at first, but once you get to know him, there’s more than meets the rock hammer.”

“Balboa’s super smart, too - his mind is crystal-clear,” James added. “You know, a lot of quartz crystals.”

Tadhg and James made sure Balboa was perfectly comfortable as they brought him back to JIRP headquarters at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau. He was finally given a warm home to live in and oxidize to his heart’s desire. Balboa was introduced to the other JIRP students, who warmly welcomed him into their lives. Tadhg and James even baptized Balboa in Juneau’s Auke Lake during a beautiful ceremony.

The new parents stressed that they wanted to open Balboa’s eyes to other glaciers. Later in the week, they carried the hefty rock up on a hike to the Mendenhall Glacier. Despite the extra burden, Tadhg insists that it was well worth it, and plans to carry Balboa across the Juneau Icefield for the remainder of the summer.

As for Balboa’s plans for life after the Icefield? The rock told me that he’s on to bigger and better things. Right now, the goal is to raise a family and settle down, preferably settling on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean as erosional sediment.  

   The new parents with adorable Balboa. Photo by author. 

The new parents with adorable Balboa. Photo by author.