Tim Palmer, who recently appeared at Lyon Books in Chico for a signing and slide show, knows the mountains of California. Author and master photographer, Palmer has traversed them "by foot and on skis, by canoe and whitewater raft, and in his well-equipped van." "In the spring of 2010," he writes, "I set out for the glaciers of California. I wanted to see them before they were gone."
Hear the sadness: "I wanted to climb on the glaciers' steep slopes, to feel the crunch of their snow underfoot, to drink from crystalline streams cutting their icy surfaces, to sleep at their rocky windswept edges, and to photograph their evanescent beauty so others might also know what was there. It proved to be one of the most remarkable summers of my life."
His report, filled with stunning color photographs, is simply called "California Glaciers" ($29.95 in hardcover from Sierra College Press, published by Heyday Books). It's a personal account, capturing the sense of what it is like to walk atop a glacier, coming to terms with a "glacial truth that required me to stretch my concept of what is real, or likely, or possible: a solid substance that flows. I imagined the creeping ice as if it were extremely dense clay, ever so slowly yielding, bending, and moving to the molding pressure of my hands. Gravity had exerted that kind of force on the ice non-stop for ages, and so the ice bent and slid downhill. By setting foot on the glacier, I had figuratively--and quite imaginably--reentered the ice ages of the past."
Near the center of the book is a glacier portfolio, pages of blues, whites, browns, and reds, from Thompson Peak in the Trinity Alps to Hotlum Glacier on Mount Shasta's east side. A chapter is devoted to Shasta. Listen: "On the towering stratovolcano of the north, California's largest surviving glaciers still move, rupture, creak, crack, groan, push rock, and swallow the unwary."
But these glaciers are fast disappearing. "Throughout the Sierra," Palmer writes, "glaciers are about half as large in area as they were a hundred years ago. ... From a purely nature-focused view, the changes written in the glaciers are tragic and, I might add, heartbreaking."
Here, then, is an elegy to the California glacier.