A very good place to see icebergs is in Newfoundland, the easternmost island of Canada, 2000-something miles south of Greenland. I was sent there last minute on assignment, for a branded content shoot in May, just as the weather had begun to turn. I felt sorry for myself on the way to the airport, leaving spring in New York to go… look at ice.
There’s a lot of it in Newfoundland, for sure. Sea ice that washes up on black sand beaches in formations that recall surreal chess pieces. Greenish slabs of pack ice crowding sea coves as far as the horizon. Enormous icy boulders collected on at the foot of treacherously high cliffs.
On the most temperate day of our shoot, my cohort and I were sent out on what was essentially an oversized dinghy, wearing cumbersome orange jumpsuits to defend against the frigid air. I was sweaty and forlorn, clinging onto the ropes as our captain Barry — the paradigm of a sea captain with his snowy white beard and blue eyes — carefully nosed the skiff through rock hard slats of ice in port and finally broke us out to sea.
In the distance, a speck of white came into view on the horizon. Barry gestured toward it as we skidded across choppy black water. Over the sound of the engine and the wind whipping past our faces, he narrated the journey of the iceberg. They calve off of glaciers in Greenland and drift through the Labrador Sea, arriving at the coast of Newfoundland. The gradually warming climate has lately brought more and more icebergs, each spring.
Barry brought the dinghy to a putter as we approached. Quickly, the iceberg blew into form, an enormous, angular shape jutting from the inky water. Its stark whiteness was strange and difficult for me to comprehend — something about how the light was absorbed, or not absorbed by the compressed ice, gave it an uncanny appearance, as if it were a CGI rendering.
“This one’s probably about 12,000 years old,” Barry said quietly, as we all sat, stunned.
Barry carefully maneuvered the boat around the iceberg. Parts of it were shot through with columns of a bright turquoise. He explained that that was where it has melted and refrozen into ice.
As we neared a 180 degree rotation, we watched the opposite face of the iceberg recede like a crescent moon, forming, in its center, what appeared like a crater lake. Barry cut the engine and we listened as water rushed up onto its icy banks and pulled away, the sound primal and soothing like the sound of distant thunder, the salt air swirling around us.
It didn’t occur to me that observing an iceberg would also mean to watch it disappear. I noticed a strange glistening on the ice that shifted frenetically, the light sparkling as if on the surface of a mercurial creek. I didn’t want to believe that it was an indication of melting.
“Oh yeah, you know, if we were to get up closer, you’d see it’s just gallons and gallons streaming down,” Barry told me. At once, a dull pang appeared in my chest.
My boyfriend had broken up with me two days before. It was unceremonious and sudden — I became fixated on why.
Maybe I’ll never really have a handle on how relationships work, but by now I’ve grown used to how they end, always with the same strange ritual: watching someone leave, then methodically quarantining myself from our life together.
First, I blocked his phone number. Then, I erased our old text exchanges and all the photographs I had of him on my phone. Before I left for my flight to Newfoundland, I flipped through my clothing rack and tossed his shirts into a paper grocery bag.
“Are you okay, Wei?” Barry asked me. The salt from the surf, or maybe the thick zinc sunscreen melting down my face, was stinging my cheeks. My face felt hot and wet. I was crying.
“Watching the iceberg melt just makes me sad,” I told him, wiping my face with the back of my hands.
“Oh yeah, you know, I get to see a lot of wild things being out here on the water,” he said. “Killer whales attacking minke whales. Baby seals dying. All sorts of violent stuff. But you know, it’s just nature. When the iceberg melts, it returns freshwater to the ocean, too.” I looked at him.
“You come to a kind of acceptance about it,” he said, looking back at me reassuringly.
As we made a full rotation, I thought about my family, my parents, my brother, and all the generations before them whom I may never learn about or come to understand. I thought about how, like me, they existed within the lifespan of the iceberg. I thought of it all melting, come July or August, becoming ocean, once again.
A week later, my friend Xiaojue came to my apartment with chocolate ice cream — I was having a particularly difficult weekend, struggling with heartbreak. On her way, she’d run into a colleague who taught Transcendental Meditation and he shared an unsolicited teaching about love with her. When she arrived at my doorstep, she suggested, half-jokingly, that it was perhaps a message for me.
She told me he said to think of love as an ocean within oneself. Others may act as moons, conjuring waves in that ocean. But the movement is ultimately contained within our own bodies and has no bearing on another's ability to reciprocate. The quality and conditions of our internal waves do, however, speak to the depths of our individual ocean, our own capacity to love.
“Seeing the iceberg, it’s hard not to become one,” Barry said quietly, before he turned the engine and maneuvered the boat back around. There was another iceberg he knew about, this one very unique — we had to see it. But we needed to set off quick, before the temperature dropped and sealed us from port.