I have been waiting a long time to do this. A full moon has pierced the black sky all night. Rivulets of orange glowing snow show up against the silver glistening rock, hard granite jutting starkly in angular geometric shapes; those perpendicular ridges have been formed by the relentless march of solid water which was once snow. The white flakes delicately dropped with hardly an impact, then morphed into heavy crystalline ice cubes which have tumbled into the scree-lined valleys.

The scree itself is a result of captured pools of water which have gathered in the warm days of summer from showers gently sprinkling into the crevices between the rocks. The tiny lakes lie cupped in stone hands, expanding and stiffening as the dark arthritic winter days descend, then breaking the wrists of its captor, exploding the rocks into tiny pieces. No one is there to hear the rattle of gatling guns and the shouting of the shattering mountain.

The shards of shrapnel then tumble and roll, as the ice is shovelled with an unwavering gravitational pull to the vast plain that has been scoured out by centuries of the shifting seasons. The terminal edge of the glacier is streaked with black and white; the splattered colouration is reminiscent of the finest marble.

This ice river is a formidable foe and the mountain has no defence against the compressed crystalline structure. The sun refracts through the large molecules of ice and as it does so it alters the molecular structure of it and turns it from burning blue, shot with lime green and aquamarine, to a dull dribbling stippled white. The pebbles remain, breaking the monotony of the angelic blue and white. Occasionally one stutters and teeters as the edges of the glacier crumble. If one watched it it would seem that black tears were dropping from the terminal face.

This glacier is high on the mountain but swings through a steep curve to quickly reach a low altitude. This is what has given it its peculiarity — of shrinking and growing in an endless seesaw that mirrors the phases of the moon. When Tasman Glacier retreats she rapidly heats and dumps her black pebble cloak like a stripper discarding a corset. When she decides to march towards the plains below she shovels her unwanted stones in front of her like a giant bulldozer.

At the point where she stops, when the chilly air warms up and she melts a little and flops and slithers in a watery pile, a dam wall is built up. Over time her feet permanently dangle in a flat opaque expanse of milky water tinged with apple green. The water serves as a spa pool, warm to her touch but still frozen to us.

I have been waiting a long time to do this — to find a day that is warm enough to enable me to lie in the water and feel the icy chill of death and become part of the flow of the glacier. I want to cup my hands and turn like a waterwheel, moving to the base of one of the icebergs, lay under its lip and drink in its blue hues, feel it tipping and rocking as it tries to roll to expose its indigo underbelly to the sun. The sun starts to rise and it is already blanketing me with a hot life-giving blast.

My feet take the first shock of blood-slowing cold as they slither off the side of the rubber boat I am in. My boyfriend Lucas normally drives tourists around the lake but today he has taken the boat out before the tour group arrives. Air bubbles in my diaphragm, and my chest expands — it is an effort by the body to retain warmth and oxygen. Lucas paces me as I dare to exhale, then inhale and exhale, the breath of life, the cycle attuned to the hymn of the dawn child. I think — What the fuck am I doing? I am finding out I am alive, I tell myself.

I am on my back. Lucas says in my heavy wetsuit I can last three minutes at the most — but then I would have to be revived as I would be unconscious, suffering from hypothermia, and my blood would be close to ice and my heart would beat sluggishly. It will take a lot less than that to slither under the lip of one of the icebergs and click the camera. I will have a unique photo.

Lucas is begging me to wriggle towards the boat so he can roll me into the warmth of his arms but I’m compelled to stay where I am. It is easy to die, I am thinking. He can see my thoughts; I imagine my eyes have clouded over and turned to a milky green, as if I am attempting to become part of the lake.

“Johanna! Johanna!” he is shouting — but I refuse to move; I know he cannot pull me out, for fear of rolling the berg over.

Then I hear it. Perhaps it is because my ears are just touching the meniscus of the lake. I begin to struggle, pushing and clawing at the berg. Lucas leans over and pins my arms to my side. A roaring and quivering surrounds me. My eyes pop open in terror and I am that painting the scream. The sun — unblinking in a cloudless sky attaches itself to my pupils. I believe Lucas is trying to drown me — then I think I am trying to kill myself. Blood is turning my vision into a kaleidoscope of myriad lights. I close my eyes but it makes it worse. The sun still burns through my eyelids.

“Stop it!” I shout. “You are killing me!” he replies, echoing my words as he bends down and kisses me, the kiss of life; somehow lucidity worms its way into my befuddled brain.

Neither of us expects this to be the scenario that would be played out. We went over many different things, talking about what might happen, practising handling problems or difficulties that might arise. The kiss seems to send a shot of warmth through me and I once again become Johanna, who wants to live and needs to get into the boat.

I stay still, to allow Lucas to pull me to safety. I turn my head to take one last glance at the iceberg and all I see, surrounding me, are concentric ripples. Those ripples do not die down as I relax but carry on, each new one gaining size and steepness until tiny waves suck and lap under the iceberg lip. The noise around me and under me amplifies. I don’t know what it is. All I want now is just to experience Lucas’ strong mountaineering arms enfolding me and bringing me back to life.

There is a deep shattering crack and I crane my neck upwards and sight along my body and past my feet. I am in an exact line with the pyramid hill that the glacier has switched back under. I think I see it jiggling. Then I see it growing in size at the base as a large chunk of ice drops away from Tasman’s face.

Lucas and I have researched Tasman Glacier. Our breath sucks in a quavering symphony. We both know we are watching the largest basal iceberg carving off of the terminal face that has possibly ever separated from it. I know there has been an earthquake somewhere, and it was big. I glance at Aoraki; she is still whole — it is an automatic response to check her out. Years ago a ten-metre pencil-shaped horst block dropped off her top after a tremor on the Haast Pass.

“Oh fuuuuuuck!” goes up from our mouths in unison as Lucas dumps me in the bottom of the boat and starts the engine, revving it and swerving so its round upturned bow faces the huge wall of creamy, lemon yoghurt-coloured water that has lurched away from the basal carving.

Lucas is on top of me. Then I am swinging above him. All the time we cling to each other and it is like the act of intercourse, bucking and rolling, crying out and groaning. All the time we are resisting a flow of murky water, a tide, a tsunami. Lucas does not have a wetsuit on as I do. He is dressed for a calm, sunny day on the lower slopes of Aoraki, thick shirt and loose pants. I hold him tight and will heat into his body. I place my mouth on his and breathe hot air into his lungs.

Then everything goes quiet and still. I sit up and look at the massive giant black, blue and green iceberg that bobbles and twirls close to the edge of the lake. It has been swept hundreds of metres from the terminal edge by the huge rush of displaced water.

Lucas and I sit up in unison and look at each other. “Oh fuck yeah, that was fun. Bugger!” he says. “The jetty’s been washed up the hill.” It is lower down than we are. We are at the top — the wooden structure is heavier and dropped out of the wave sooner than we did. “No tourists today by the looks of it.”

“Next year I want to do abseiling in the crater of Ngaruahoe,” I grin.

Lucas nods. “That could be fun.”


Diane Andrews

Diane Andrews was born in Wainuiomata, NZ in 1953. She and her husband sailed from Sydney to Cairns in a sixteen-foot boat; she now lives there and is involved in many activities—see www.dianeandrewspublishing.com and Cairns Tropical Images.
She survived life-threatening cancer, with the most amazing response using medical treatment supplemented by diet. Diane has been featured in many poetry and short story anthologies and been placed in several competitions. She has published a collection of previously published stories, The Speed of Darke.

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