Erratic Monuments to a Melting World

An erratic is a rock that has been transported by a glacier and expelled once the glacier melts. An erratic signifies the time and place where the glacier originated—often hundreds of miles and hundreds of years distant. Erratics hold traces of the parent bedrock, the path that the glacier traveled, and the process of deposition. They are time travelers, treasure troves, reliquaries, and rubble. Encountering an erratic is akin to encountering a piece of sculpture, perched in a surprising location with an unstable or alien appearance. The material presence of an erratic is strange, an anomaly mismatched to its surroundings. It is often not clear how this solitary rock arrived. Erratics have a newness, a vulnerability, and a childlike awkwardness. They have an aura of meaning, promise and poetry that, for those of us who are not geologists, remains a mystery.

The landscapes through which I travel have been shaped, carved, gouged, and molded. I have sought the earth at its most dynamic, where great pieces of the earth move, geology is disrupted, the terrain changes, and resilience is revealed. Mountains and glaciers form and sculpt one another, the ice snaring and moving boulders and gravel by the ton. Glaciers continue to chisel the mountains around me, just as miners bore into their flanks and harvest their materials. I move and am moved.

Because I am an artist, I ponder what I am carrying within myself and what evidence my life will leave. I explore these displacements, their evidence, their trails, and the voids left when traces and relics of journeys are carried away. Below are photos and drawings of dynamic landscapes and erratics I have encountered. Click images to enlarge and view accompanying excerpts from journals, letters, sketchbooks, and notes.


Featured image: Erratics. Photos by Nina Elder, 2017.

Editor’s note: This post coincides with Nina Elder’s visit to the University of Wisconsin – Madison as part of the Terra Incognita Art Series.

Acknowledgements: The author would like to thank the Polar Lab at the Anchorage Museum, the Pollock Krasner Foundation, and the poets, scientists and bush pilots who have added to her understanding of glaciers. She is grateful as well to Wrangell Mountain Air for time in the sky and to Erin Elder and Nathaniel Wilder for each contributing a photo to this essay.

Nina Elder is an artist, adventurer, and arts administrator. Her work focuses on the changing culture and ecology of the American West and fostering relationships between artists, scientists, and diverse institutions and communities. Nina’s work has been featured in Art in America, VICE Magazine, on PBS, and elsewhere. Her research has been supported by the Anchorage Museum, Andy Warhol Foundation, Rauschenburg Foundation, Pollock Krasner Foundation, and Nevada Museum of Art. Website. Instagram. Contact.

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