I watched the blood moon rise lying on the ground in front of my parents’ house in Lenk. It emerged from behind the upper cliffs of the Wildstrubel, the steep massif that blocks the end of the valley and says, no further. This valley ends. Here.
Just to the right of where the red moon rose lies the Plaine Morte glacier—the glacier of the plain of death. The glacier has been melting quickly these last decades, and at this point there’s not a whole lot of it left. As its name suggests, it is a flat glacier, up on a high plateau. Its south end is in Canton Valais, and the rest of it in Canton Bern.
A lake forms on the ice in summer, on the edge of Valais, into which it normally empties in a little stream. Over the last decade this seasonal lake has grown from nonexistent to 1.2 kilometers in length. Ice-blue water lying on the ice-blue ice.
Sometime around the beginning of August, the ice suddenly collapses in the innards of the glacier, and the entire lake empties, all at once, toward the north. Toward Lenk. The waterfall that carries glacier melt down the cliffs of the Wildstrubel suddenly doubles, triples, quadruples in size, then breaks all bounds. The landscape changes. The waterfall is no longer white with churning froth but deep brown from the churned up scree it carries. 2 million cubic meters of ice-water are on the march. Not on the march—on the run.
The Simme river in the valley rises suddenly, the water turns dark-chocolate brown, branches and whole trees churn down, and the river’s velocity becomes dizzying. The river bed is hollowed out. Bridges are closed; houses are evacuated.
Eeriest of all, it becomes cold. Standing on a bridge above the speeding chocolate waters is like standing in a deep-freeze. At these speeds and in these quantities, the water has had no time to warm up on its descent. Dark-brown liquid ice is coursing through the valley.
This year it happened on the day of the longest eclipse of the century. The blood moon rose, and the ice-melt ran, at the same time. At midnight I got up and walked to the bridge close by the house. The world was out of joint. Macbeth might have said, as he did to Banquo’s list of portents on the night of Duncan’s murder, It was a rough night.
The moon disappeared behind a cloud. When it emerged, a slivered crescent of bright white shone on its left-hand side. I lay and watched it fill up again, watched until we had our moon back. Felt compelled to, to be sure.
The next day the water was down. The waterfall was no longer brown, no longer monstrous; it, too, had regained its bright whiteness.
You can say, all is better now. Back to normal.
Or you can say, we have been warned. Nature could hardly speak to us more clearly.
Do we know how to listen?