Transcending Fear – My Helicopter Caper onto the Meade Glacier

Isn’t this a beautiful photo of a snow covered peak in Alaska? Looks like something from Nat Geo, doesn’t it? And because it is so awesome, so insurmountable, so foreign, it is almost too hard to make sense of personally because we feel disconnected from it. This formidable land seemingly has nothing to do with us because it is the earth in her severe frosty Northern mountain regalia, and she does not not appear to give one damn about our human lives.

Well, all that is true. That is the nature of the earth in her extreme environments, but this is not a picture from a professional photographer. This is a picture from the Southeast of Skagway that I shot while I was 5 thousand feet in the air in a helicopter the size of a mosquito flying over the vast peaks and ice sheets of the Juneau ice field on our way to land on Meade Glacier.

Yep, I took these pictures because I was there and I was scared out of my mind flying — more like buzzing in a an absurdly minuscule mode of conveyance — above the earth, while those mountains, all that snow, and that unforgiving landscape, was a long way down.

These are some of the more scary and intense pictures that I shot, sometimes with my eyes closed, just clicking away.

Actually, I need to be truthful. I wasn’t as scared as I normally would have been — I am usually deathly and uncontrollably afraid of heights — because I gave myself a year to get used to the idea that I was gonna get in that helicopter. Yes, the thought of being that far above the earth and able to see the land that far down still scared the daylights out of me. But I paid for this helicopter excursion onto the Meade Glacier because I decided that I love glaciers more than I am invested in being afraid of heights. This was a profound conscious shift for me. I wanted to be on the glacier and nothing was going to stop me, not even my debilitating fear.

The glacier was more fabulous than I could have hoped for. It was pristine, it was ferocious, and it was a complicated ecosystem. It glistened like a faery world on this unusually warm sunny day. Our pilot told us how blessed we were to be out on such a magical day of calm weather, as she frequently took this flight in less than ideal conditions.

I am convinced that the ice is alive. The illuminated ice and the blue of the glaciated water (un-oxygenized) — that was so pure we could drink! — revealed the complex patterns of water and its relationship to the land. There were portals into the vast caverns and canyons deep within the ice (called moulins or glacier mills) that were to me, a shamanic practitioner of faery Celtic traditions, seductive invitations to jump into the underworld or into an icy devic realm. I knew damn well that that would mean death. But to say it wasn’t enticing would be to lie about the power of the earth and her many worlds. My wizard husband knows this about me and kept a close eye on how close I got to those gorgeous blue portals that lead into an earth realm so powerful, that for a brief moment I couldn’t help but contemplate jumping right in.

Of course I did not, but even trying on that moment of shamanic consciousness was worth the journey because I am now less afraid of heights and more respectful of depths, and I got to experience an unfathomable part of the earth on a truly glorious day. Gratitude can only be the result of such an experience.