by Margaret Heflter, AP'18
Though our expedition to Taylor Bay was a deeply meaningful experience – defined by illuminating exposure to the scientific process and awe-inspiring encounters with the natural world – as a group, several unanticipated curveballs knocked us off our feet. Luckily, I think we were able to meet these challenges with ingenuity and grace, teaching us new forms of problem-solving that wouldn’t be possible in the typical college classroom. For me in particular, the ‘quick mud’, which forms as ocean tides flow in and out of the mud flats where brown bears and moose roam, became a particular source of consternation. The first day, as I ventured out in my quick-dry pants and rubber ‘Xtra-Tuf’ boots, I figured I’d be adequately prepared for whatever the landscape might throw at me. Of course, ten minutes later, I found myself stuck in mud up to my knees, unable to get my boots out from the sticky, sinking mud. Eventually, I had to ditch the boots and run across the muddy patch in my wool socks to avoid sinking further. Luckily, Tania Lewis, the Wildlife Biologist for Glacier Bay National Park, had an extra pair of socks to lend me, and Laura helped un–wedge the boots from where they were stuck. Still, I was pretty grumpy about the fact that one of my two pairs of pants were now totally soiled. The next day, decked out in my fresh pants, I figured getting stuck would be a one-time thing, but of course, on our way back from the old growth forest, it happened again: I was shin-deep in the mud. So, both of my pants were now wet and muddy, as were my socks. I figured I could either sulk about the situation, or try to laugh off my new-found filthiness. Laughing it off proved to be the much more productive attitude to take, and, learning my lesson, the next day I brought along an extra pair of socks for our 10-mile trek to Brady Glacier, as well as the flexible attitude I was determined to cultivate.
Our group met several, more serious, challenges as well: when we arrived at the campsite, we had no idea where fresh water was located. This was our most pressing issue, as we had roughly 11 gallons of water and sixteen thirsty people. Camp crew set out to search for water, and eventually discovered water fresh enough to drink. Still, how best to haul the water containers through the mud and back to the campsite? The group eventually discovered that sliding a thick piece of driftwood through the handle of the water containers made it so the weight of the gallons could be easily distributed over the shoulders of two different people, making the haul far less painful. The question still remained of cleaning the water to make it drinkable. We discovered that a bandana works splendidly for removing an enormous amount of dirt and sediment from the water, and, after allowing the water to reach a boil on the propane stove, the fresh water was ready to drink. On the fourth day, however, a new issue arose: we were out of propane, and still had several meals left to cook. Dimitri proposed using an aluminum can to prop up the pot we used to cook in the campfire. This improvisation meant that the smoked salmon pasta packed for dinner could still be eaten. Other clever improvisations abounded amongst the cohort: sand works well to clean pots and silverware in lieu of sponges or steel wool, a piece of drift wood works nicely as a cutting board, and a puffy jacket makes a perfect pillow.
Though facing these challenges could be both anxiety-provoking and frustrating, in learning to cope with them, the cohort flexed mental muscles of improvisation and flexibility in new and exciting ways. Obviously, it would’ve been fantastic to have fresh water immediately accessible, endless propane, and a mud-free environment, but by pulling ourselves out of the proverbial and literal muck, I think we all grew stronger, both as a community and as individuals striving to embody the ideal of Arete.
Margaret Heftler is a member of the 2018 Glacier Bay Session cohort. She studies English Literature at Georgetown University.