In her memoir Moments of Being,
Virginia Woolf writes about special moments that a writer must court
and be ready for, moments when what she calls the "cotton wool of daily
existence" falls away and for a moment we are presented with an
astonishing truth about something, anything. Writer Barry Lopez speaks
of something similar in his book Arctic Dreams, moments when
for some reason we have become aware of "openings" in the land, moments
when, as he puts it, "something sacred reveals itself within the
mundane, and you know that the land knows you are there." Sit still in
the land for a time, or sit still inside and recall a time in the
natural world when you participated in such a moment. It does not have
to be an earth-shattering event--it could be a time when for some
reason you were particularly aware of the sound of the wind in the
feathers of a hawk as it circled above you. Try to describe the moment
in detail--don't resort of superlatives such as "it was beautiful."
Describe the process and details of the moment. Remember to include
Analysis:In this short piece I write about such a moment, in
an ice cave in Antarctica. I try to pay special attention to describing
the color in the cave, because it was the color that moved me so much.
I don't try to come to any conclusions about what the moment means,
only that it happened.
Sample Mini Essay:One Sunday, I went to visit the ice caves.
The caves are part of the Erebus Glacier tongue, a long spit of ancient
ice, named after Mt. Erebus, an active volcano that hovers over Ross
Island and McMurdo station. The caves are about an hours drive from
McMurdo by tracked vehicle. I went with a group of nine others who had
signed up for the trip on a sheet of paper near the galley.
went to two caves. One of them was very easy to get into. You climbed a
hill of snow, squiggled through a rather large opening, and slid down a
little slope into a large cavern--a cavern about as big as the average
living room. The other cave you would miss if you didn't know it was
there. You kick-stepped your way up a steep incline then squeezed your
body through an opening only big enough to fit your shoulders through.
Then, you slid down a thin icy tube until you landed on a shelf (if you
went too far you dumped into a depression you had to climb back out
of), and then, with the aid of a rope, you climbed up and around and
through a maze of tight ice walls until you reached two larger caverns.
A claustrophobic person would not do well in the second cave.
It was in the first cave that I had my moment. I had been lying on my
back, taking notes, looking up into the crystals and into that blue
that still amazes me--blue so blue it is as if your eyes have broken
and don't work. Blue so blue it is like gas that fades away into more
and more intense blue-violet. The first time I'd been in the cave the
person who took me there said that often people who go down into
crevasses are so overcome by the blue that it makes them cry. I
remembered that as I lay there on my back, taking notes, trying to draw
the crystals that hung like blooms of flowers above me, trying to
figure out where the blue began and where it ended.
Suddenly everyone else was gone, or I thought they were. So, after a
while I packed up my notebook, reluctantly, and started to get up. Once
I was out of my little grotto, I realized that there was one person
left in the room. It was my friend Gary Teetzel. Gary is an engineer in
the laboratory building at McMurdo, and he and I had spent time
together weeks earlier in the observation tube--an 18-foot tube set
into the cold sea, which you could climb down to and sit in to watch
creatures in the dark ocean.
"Oh, It's you," I said to Gary, jokingly, as if, if there was anyone
left in the ice cavern still it would be HIM, and me. We are kindred
spirits--lovers of quiet and contemplation. So, we stood there,
quietly, at opposite ends of this ice cavern for another ten minutes,
until we heard a voice calling us to come away and board the vehicle.
It was during that ten minutes that I had my moment. I cupped my hands
around me eyes, so that all I saw was the blue, and as I stared, my
heart began to beat faster and my breath started to come faster and
tears started to come to my eyes.
It was that blue that made me cry. That blue. That blue/violet that
seems like it is sucking you in, that makes you feel as if you are
falling into it, that compels you somehow to look into it, even though
it blurs your vision and confuses you. It was that blue, so enigmatic
that for a moment you lose your balance in it. You don't quite know
if you are in the sky, or under water, or whether for an instant you
might be in both places than once. The blue is like a frosty, vague and
endlessly deep hole in your heart. It has no edges, just color and
depth. It is a color that is like some kind of yearning, some
unfulfilled desire, or some constant extreme joy. It just burns there,
burns violet, burns blue.
Illustration above is "The Blue - Inside the Ice Caves."