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8. A Sacred Moment
By Gretchen Legler
Genre: Non-fiction
Year: 1997 Category: Student Examples

Writing Assignment:

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 sensory detail.


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. We 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." Copyright 11.24.97

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