Alaska was everything and more than I ever expected it to be. As I return ten pounds heavier, I can attest to its amazing beauty: whales, mountains with snow, calm bays, colorful fishing towns, and more mountains with snow. At the top of my list, however, is the incredible strength and fragility of the Alaskan glaciers. Did I mention amazing? And did I mention fragile?
For those anxious to make an Alaska trip with hopes of seeing glaciers I recommend you go soon. The retreat of all but one or two glaciers is at a rate noticeable to even our waiter – who had been on this route for only five years. If my children come to Alaska at my age today (54), they will be lucky if they can see two, maybe three small glaciers (we saw more than a dozen large ones). Much of this retreat is part of the natural ebb and flow of the ice – coming and then going. But part of what is happening today is undeniably due to our own presence (probably even the presence of cruise ships in the area) and our own irresponsible “dominion” over God’s world. We may not have known thirty years ago the impact of clear-cutting forests (including rainforests) or over-use of fossil fuels, but we know today that these and other practices impact our environment. The only question is if we will (continue to) live in denial or grieve reality and resolve to live in better, more responsible ways.
I hope that it’s not too late to reverse course and for there to be a chance, in time, for glaciers to make their way forward again – and then back, without their extinction along with so many other living species. And given the species that depend on the ecosystem created by glaciers, the whales may even find it tough going in the future. (Oh yes, a whale of a picture to come.)
Glenn Pemberton is a minister turned professor turned writer. After serving churches in Texas and Colorado, Glenn completed a Ph.D. (Old Testament). He then taught at Oklahoma Christian University before coming to Abilene Christian University in 2005, retiring as professor emeritus in 2017 due to a severe chronic pain. Glenn now spends his time writing for the church. Along with short essays he has published four books, including The God who Saves: An Introduction to the Message of the Old Testament (2015), and Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms (2012). Glenn and his wife Dana continue to live in Abilene, Texas.