The Icefield Within

Matty Miller

Harvard University

Camp 10 is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. There’s a stillness and monumental character to the surroundings that compels me in remarkable ways. From atop our rocky little nunatak, the snow expands so far in each direction that the land seems to me more of an ocean than an icefield, its placid waters interrupted by jagged black spines of mountains whose vertical rise seem so incongruous with the smoothness and flatness below. It’s alien and unbelievable, yet unchanging: each morning I wake up and this vast place that defies my prior experience has remained, by and large, the same.

 Camp 10 with the Taku Range beyond. Photo by Matt Beedle.

Camp 10 with the Taku Range beyond. Photo by Matt Beedle.

Plenty of people have made the same trite (but indeed, true) observations of Man’s smallness in Nature, so I’ll spare you that. But what gets me about being in a place like this is the impossibility of denying it. What do I mean by that? Well, I suppose that so much of the way we perceive each other and our surroundings is based on imagined subjectivities that, if we will them enough, can be changed simply by modifying our thinking. We build complex and negative mindsets that we refuse to change often due to the fact that we simply assume them to be unchangeable. Take hate … something I believe to be an egregious untruth. If I hate something, I can (with sufficient will power) reorganize my mind to love. Or, for example, if a sensation (say, a snow bath) or taste (say, spam) disturbs me, I can (with time) condition myself to enjoy it. Thus, I find that certain phenomena to which we often believe ourselves bound, be they immediate or grand, are ultimately vulnerable to changes in perception. Some of these things, if we believe in the powers of the mind, are infinitely malleable.

Some things, but not all! I, for example, can’t wake up and simply imagine away the Taku Towers. I can’t close my eyes and melt away the glacier before me. There are places where the seemingly boundless limits of perception cease to expand and those places are in Nature! The physical Earth, which we have come here to study and understand, cannot be made one way or another with thought, great though its power may otherwise be. It objectively is, and this fact cannot be altered by human agency. In a world in which people are born with the freedom to direct their consciousness, I feel that it is the investment of the mind into such manifestations of objectivity (from the topsoil to the mountaintop) that constitutes the true search for, and embrace of, Truth. Herein lies the nobility of Science. Indeed, the direction of the mind towards the aforementioned, more malleable aspects of perception (from art to hatred and everything in between) takes up most of our time in life. In the end, however, they pale in comparison to the monumental veracity of the Wild, precisely due to the fact that the former are subjective, whereas the latter is absolute. Its existence lies beyond what we can ever hope to create or use to delude ourselves. That is why I love it here! That is why I must seek out a life devoted to science. To do so keeps me grounded, reminding me that 1) I do exist, as do other things and 2) the negative thoughts that I unconsciously carry around are ultimately vulnerable to the efforts of my own mind. Thus, Nature empowers me, though it may also show me to be tiny.

 Sunset at Camp 17. Photo by Matt Beedle.

Sunset at Camp 17. Photo by Matt Beedle.

All well and good. I can reach out and touch nature. I can ski out to the mountains and climb on top of them, I can feel the cold of the snow, lay my hands on the granite of the nunatak. But what of the intangible? Does immutable Truth exist beyond the physical world? I have to believe that it does, in places that we must journey to within ourselves to discover. I think that this is the spirit of the explorer to which Dr.Miller once referred; for just as we seize the opportunity to venture into this wilderness, so too must we make the adventure to find the undeniable truths within ourselves.  We must turn the ideals of exploration inwards to find the white horizons and uncharted spaces inside us all that are so manifest that their clarity and immutability guide us to obvious self-understanding.  Love, friendship, patriotism, desire: the key drivers of the spirit can be summited and studied like any mountain, and only in doing so shall we find the vulnerabilities of our doubts, the humility of our condition, and the weakness of our weaknesses. Let us widen this expedition to the icefield within, taking the time to turn from the physical to the metaphysical as this unique space guides us not only to discoveries of the Earth, but discoveries of our own nature.