It roared across the upper Midwest, entering from the region of Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba, unsuspected by any living being. It engulfed the majority of the Dakotas, Iowa, Wisconsin and the entire state of Minnesota. Its leading edge scraped across Minnesota, pushing unfathomable amounts of dirt and stone in front of it. And massive trenches, outwash plains, sloping hilltops, immense boulder formations and moraines were left in its wake. For thousands of years, the region would be buried under snow and ice; in places a mile thick.
It has been theorized by scientists that there have been eight Ice Age cycles within the past 750,000 years. And it was in the most recent Ice Age that giant glacial sheets extended from the poles to cover most of Canada, all of New England, much of the upper Midwest, large areas of Alaska, most of Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia, much of Great Britain and Ireland, and the northwestern portion of the former Soviet Union. It was an incredibly expansive glacial ice sheet and its effect would be forever felt and memorialized by numerous moraines, lakes and continental divides.
In the Midwest region of the United States, it would take several thousand years for the glacial ice sheet to advance as far as the southern edge of Iowa before take several thousand more years to retreat toward the polar cap. The Wadena, Superior, Rainy and Des Moines lobes of this grand glacial ice sheet, moving only inches a day, would ultimately merge across the terrain of Minnesota and give birth to large glacial ridges that would eventually come to be known as the Minnesota Continental Divide.
As the glacial ice sheet slowly and silently receded, beginning over 16,000 years ago, the melted freshwater filled into the low-lying areas amidst these ridges, forming many of the 12,000 Minnesota lakes. Rivers flowed around the ridges, draining into three great river systems that presently move Minnesota-birthed water toward three distant seas. Depending on the lie of the Minnesota Continental Divide, these Minnesota river waters ultimately flow either to the Hudson Bay, the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean. As well over the span of these numerous millennia, an undetectable and wonderful phenomenon was also occurring: the Wadena, Superior, Rainy and Des Moines lobes of this immense ice sheet were gently depositing mineral rich till that would later form the fertile soils that presently cover the very same upper Midwest.
This past summer I had a wonderful opportunity to summit the glaciated peak of Mt. Rainier in Washington state. It was an intensely exhilarating experience that has enhanced many of my perspectives of Life forever. Climbing upward above 12,000 feet elevation, amidst the grand crevasses of the Cowlitz and Ingraham Glaciers of Mt. Rainier and finally standing on its summit, I was instilled with a deeper sense of my finiteness and a much greater appreciation for the subtleness and expansiveness of this glaciated peak known by the locals as The Mountain.
On the return trek from my summit of Columbia Crest high atop Mt. Rainier, my four-person team and I crossed a two-foot wide, ten-foot long snow bridge that spanned a very deep crevasse just above a massive rock ridge known as Disappointment Cleaver. It was in the early morning light that I paused on this snow bridge and was able to finally see what I had unknowingly passed by earlier that star-filled morning on our ascent: a crevasse that continued forever downward into a total void. The air molecules in this glacial ice formation were so compressed, the ice was a brilliant dark blue toward the surface, eventually fading into complete blackness.
Taking a short break just beyond this crevasse, much of the research and reading I had done to prepare for this journey came flooding back to me. And I was again reminded that this majestic and powerful glacier had been ultimately formed one snowflake, one ice crystal, at a time, spanning over thousands and thousands of years. Snowfall after snowfall, this glacier subtly and gradually was growing in immensity, undetected by the daily life unfolding around it. It was expanding and building in unseen grandeur; its subtle and gradual growth ultimately aiding this grand peak to emerge and remain. And its subtle and gradual growth has also been responsible for bringing this glacier to life. For as a glacier builds in immensity and reaches a critical thickness of approximately 18 meters, the sloping rock structure below it cannot support its weight, causing the entire glacier formation to begin its ongoing and subtle movement downward. In low-lying areas that are less sloped, the compressed ice becomes so heavy that it begins to deform and move as well. It is this motion and change that defines a glacier’s existence and separates it from a simple snowfield. And it is this movement, this existence, which is celebrated, trekked upon, and witnessed by thousands each year; each taking away from Mt. Rainier their own personal insights and perspectives concerning motion, change and Life.
In my mind, there are simply two words that are able to capture the process which occurred over 16,000 years ago in the upper Midwest and that is occurring today on the glaciated peaks of Mt. Rainier: subtle and expansive. Glaciers and glacial ice sheets, forming and expanding with each snowfall, move only inches each day; a subtle movement that is undetectable to the human eye. And with each snowfall as well, glaciers and glacial ice sheets becoming thicker, compressing themselves downward and outward, always expanding. And throughout this very subtle process, mountains, moraines, plains, divides, rivers, lakes and fertile land emerge; the rich product of a very subtle, continuous and expansive glacial movement.
Just around this corner of your life, my friend, tomorrow will unfold. It will be a day like every other day; full of fast paced daily decisions and obligations. It may very well be a day that looks and feels exactly like so many others days before it in your life. But don’t be fooled too quickly. There is most assuredly positive motion and change within your day. And it remains subtle enough that it sometimes goes undetected. Buried among the daily obligations of your days are the subtle and expansive actions of your life; those actions that are subtly adding to the advancement of your humanity and eventually leaving behind a rich heritage from which others are and will be inspired.
The purpose of your life is presently unfolding, in all of its subtle and expansive grandeur; mostly unsuspected by any other living being. All of your noble deeds and actions, although singular and seemingly ordinary, are building on one another… one noble and compassionate action after another… compressing into a living and moving entity. And rest assured, it’s an entity, a life, which can and will move massive amounts of apathy and leave touched and inspired lives in its wake. It’s your personal glacial movement… subtle, yet expansive.
As a friend once told me, “Nothing is lost in God’s economy. God uses all our efforts that are motivated by goodwill and a generous and faithful heart”… it is these efforts that are subtle and expansive glacial movements in your life. In this spirit, make a promise to yourself in this coming year, to further advance those glacial movements of your own life:
It is believed by scientists that glaciers presently store 75% of the world’s fresh water supply. And it is my personal belief that within the glacial movements of your life, my friend, is stored endless rivers of compassion and peace needed in this Life. Don’t, for one moment, doubt the impact of your daily efforts and purpose. They may seem subtle today, but they will forever remain expansive.