“… change always brings two step forward and one step backward.” Reed Hasting, Netflix
It is 10pm. I am laying down inside the tent, tucked in my sleeping bag. Outside, darkness has taken over. Camped at the foot of the glacier, there are no trees to be ruffled by the wind. There are only the rocky mountains imposing their silent presence. Their sheer size encases me in a blanket of insignificance. Who I am really to be standing and claim dominance? My kind has only been around for a time that when put in relationship to the scale of the universe, only gives us the smallest of width of a hair. Just a couple of hours ago, I was sitting on top of a rock having dinner, taking in the humility of the moment. My eyes and my brain were trying to take in all that they were seeing, while sitting on an object that defied my understanding of permanence. In front of me was a glacier, a living giant entity of ice that has been carving this landscape for thousands of years. How many years? God only knows. No one really can say the last time this soil wasn’t covered by ice. The Last Glacial Maximum era reached its peak 26,500 years ago. The Karoo Ice Age goes back 260 millions years. Those numbers don’t even make sense to me. I learned in school about the Egyptians, the Chinese, the Greeks and the Romans. But the dominion of humans covers a period that really could easily be summarized into a sentence that goes like this: “The human era, which spanned for 15,000 years, was a time of great accomplishments but unfortunately didn’t manage to survive.” The Neanderthal roamed the planet for close to 400,000 years. Who are we really? Despite our claims for greatness, aren’t we just a blink? A simple entity of flesh at the mercy of an energy that is bigger than us, evolving and expanding?
My memory scans the hours passed and remembers when my sight focused on a rock half covered by ice. Bizarrely, I was suddenly filled with happiness. How can I not be, this rock had been buried and pressured upon for millennia and now for the first time, it saw the light of day and breathed the fresh air. From the second the ice melts, life sets in. The water flows, the flowers appear, the birds start to visit, and the insects take ownership. Without the concept of climate change, my gut reaction about the glacier disappearing is one of relief. Maybe this is one of the major reasons why the majority of the world is having trouble processing what is happening. We all love milder winters and tropical temperatures. So why would we care about the ice going away? Would it just bring to us what we have been paying to reach on all those vacations? I feel inadequate in making a judgement. Aren’t most of the things we cherish today a result of a previous ancestral destruction? Isn’t life just a series of comparisons without any real point of reference? What are we comparing our future to? Yesterday? 500 years ago, a thousand years, or a million years ago? I am tired with the current atomistic rhetoric.
Change defines life. It is the ultimate constant. Listening to the glacier and the mountains talking, I don’t hear the pessimism that humans have swallowed. Over the hill, behind me, stands a black mountain, a Tuya. It is the core of an ancient volcano that erupted at a time when miles of ice covered the land. And look at the valley now, it is blooming with colors and the whistles of marmots calling my presence, it reminds me that life adapts and abounds.
I was born more than four decades ago from parents who got together with the belief of a united future. That belief didn’t last long but out of this forsaken union came out two children and one of them is writing these words. Life is an endless loop of soaring and crashing. Is the human species really a bad one or is it that we are experts at getting back up when when we hit the wall? I have lost count of the amount of times I thought I had exhausted everything in my power only to find a new way out. It is not that I choose to ignore the situation we live in and blindly think that the world is in good shape — not at all — my stand is that it is pointless to blame the past and fill ourselves with guilt. Everything we do and did was because somewhere and somehow we thought it was for the best and worth the risk. Collectively, we have benefited a lot from those decisions, but we have to admit that those benefits have come at a great cost. We have pushed for a long time with little regard to consequences and now we are being pushed back. Is it the end? Perhaps of an era. But is also the beginning of new one. We all have lived and remember a relationship that broke our heart and drove us to a place where we thought there was no love forward, only to find ourselves months later wondering how we could have even endured for so long such an unfulfilled life.
Life is dynamic and continually changing. This planet on which we live was formed out of chaos. Out of this inhospitable place, living creatures have evolved. Life has flourished and perished several times. Was the disappearance of the dinosaurs good or bad? It depends. One thing for sure, we wouldn’t be here had they kept ruling the land; our species literally rose because one died.
As all these thoughts are going through my mind, my heart suddenly stops by the roaring sound of destruction. A boulder of ice has fallen near the glacier bridge. All this energy accumulated over thousands of years has been released with a massive bang! This audio tsunami is raging across the valley and to my innocent ears, it feels like the mountains are tumbling down. During the day, the glacier absorbs the heat and the affected frozen molecules of water become more malleable. The glacier’s edges stretch and bend. Then at night, as the temperature cools down, those same molecules of water are now forced to expand within a structure that has been weakened. This ongoing expanding and contracting over time can break the mightiest of ice castles. The irony is that immediately after the thunderous fall, the silence returns and life continues. To the river that the glacier feeds and to the animals that depend on the river, this added mass of ice only brings more water that can be distributed. What will happen when the ice is gone? I guess the same as it has before. It will become something else, good for some, and bad for others.
Change is by nature an unwanted force. Let’s face it, dealing with change demands a lot of energy and the power of stability and predictability are not to be underestimated. It is hard to build when the parts are constantly moving. Juggling is hard enough and imaging doing it while riding a bicycle outside with the wind blowing and your eyes closed – borderline impossible. But change makes life evolve. It forces us to reassess our values and reaffirm how we want to move forward. It shows us what works and what doesn’t; and through that process we, and life, adapt. Individually and collectively, we learn, grow and hopefully become better humans. The tree of life is a not a direct and straight line. Evolution is a continual process of adaptations that has no moral code, a game of action-reaction that has no end.
It might be hard to accept, but there is nothing really sad about glaciers disappearing. Much like there is no sadness in a volcano erupting or the neck of baby antelope broken by the jaw of a cheetah so that it can feed its pups. It is nature, it is life. What is sad is our cultural narcissism, arrogance, and belief that life depends on our capacity to manage the planet. What is sad is our myopia and disconnect with nature and with each other. What is sad is our lack of respect and value for life. It is true that the scale of impact humans have managed to create is off the chart. Our motivations to change shouldn’t be coming from a place of righteousness and guilt. They should come from a place of respect and humility, because we understand our dependency and symbiosis with the natural world.
The next morning I went to inspect the glacier to find where that boulder fell. The sun has risen above the mountain peaks and it is shining down on the new exposed ancient ice; the shades of blues are truly mesmerizing! I wonder how Van Gogh would have painted them. I sit down on a nearby rock and from my thermos, I pour hot water on my yerba mate. After letting the tea leaves soak for a few minutes, I bring the ‘bombilla’ to my lips. By expanding my lungs, I create a vacuum and force the water up and into my mouth. I am aware and connected to every little step that makes this morning ritual priceless. As I swallow the warm liquid, a large smile appears on my face, making my eyes squint. In front of me, hovering five feet above the ground and staring at me is a hummingbird. Where did that little bird come from? That answer has no importance really because my heart and soul understand, hence my smile. Hummingbirds are messengers. In cities where life is more artificial, their appearances have less significance, but up here, in the mountains, hundreds of miles away from civilization, the timing of this tiny feathered creature visit is no mistake. In ancient cultures all the around the world, hummingbirds teach us to look back at our past but not to dwell, instead they ask us to move forward. They remind us to focus on the positivity of life. How appropriate!
Do you see the hummingbird above?
Life is resilient. We are resilient. The reason why we will reach 8 billions soon on the planet is not because we are bad but because we figure our way out. We rise when the shit hits the fan. This is what we do and what we are expert at. We experiment, we risk, we fall, we learn, we fall again, then grow and adapt. Change is inevitable and necessary. It is life. It defines us and will continue to do so. However tragic the past can look like, we mustn’t lose believing in ourselves. Out of the darkest stories rise some the brightest and most inspiring people our kind has known.
As I watch the hummingbird zoom away, I cannot help but feel hopeful. Not because I think that this situation we are in and that we facing is meaningless and easy to deal with, no, not at all. The reason I am hopeful is that like a snake, we are about to shed an old mantle. But the only way a snake can get rid of its crippling envelope is by seeking the thorny bushes and sharp rocky edges. It will be hard, no question about it. We will have to question everything, ourselves and even the things we have come to take for granted. But like the phoenix that rises from the ashes, life will prevail and the species that will come out of the troubled waters will be a more matured, connected, humble, and caring.
“…winter has to happen, everything has to die for spring to happen… nature shows us that death is an opportunity… what is it in you that needs to die for the things that you are meant to be doing to show up… we are dynamic, we have to shed constantly…” Michael Hebb on the Chase Jarvis Show, Let’s Talk About Death