Sunday, March 2, 2014

Antarctica Day 12: Back in the Drake

Posted via email from satellite phone on-board the Ioffe. Photos will come
when the voyage is over!
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ANTARCTICA DAY 12: BACK IN THE DRAKE


We're back in the Drake Passage in fairly rough seas. I've been mostly holed
up in my bed in the cabin to sleep off the Dramamine, which has given me
plenty of time to think.

I feel tired and sad. Overnight Antarctica disappeared, and I didn't feel
like I had a chance to say goodbye. This whole experience was a whirlwind, a
wonderful whirlwind, but I wasn't at all ready for it to be over before
waking up yesterday morning to a rainy return to semi-civilization. The mood
on the ship is grey. The trip, emotionally, seems to be over, and now
everyone is just waiting to go home and tolerating each other in the
meanwhile. I feel drained myself, too drained to try to be an Instigator of
Fun, although maybe that's what I should try to do to cheer myself up.

This trip was like a one night stand with the White Continent: exciting and
brilliant and a rush of adrenaline and fun for that brief shiny moment, but
vaguely sad and uncomfortably empty at the goodbye. I fell in love, only to
be whisked away just as I was falling hard. It's funny how a place can steal
my heart as well as any person, and I feel lonely now, and sad. I wanted a
deeper connection. I wanted to stay.

Is it PMS, or am I getting tired of the nomadic life? Seeing the Earth and
marveling at her varied and many-faceted beauty while traveling has been an
incredible experience. I have smiled and laughed and felt effervescent joy
more in these past six months than in the last many, many years combined. I
have thrived and grown in my adventures. I have reunited with my soul. But
although I am strong and have my feet planted firmly beneath me now, in my
heart is still the tender, aching thing it has always been.

I fall in love, I get attached, and those attachments melt me. I've spent
this year avoiding that with people, forming at most loose friendships,
never getting so close to people that I can't leave without it hurting. But
my heart seems to have been built for attachment, and in the absence of a
person to attach to, keeps attaching itself to places. It fell in love with
Navarino and I cried hard when it was time to leave. It fell in love again
with Antarctica, and she barely let me kiss her snowy white skirts—imagine
how hard I would have fallen if I could have stayed and explored a while!

I want to be dropped off somewhere far south with a pair of touring skis and
ice gear and a magical supply of re-filling food. Stay for a month or twelve
out away from it all. Just me and the snow and ice and mountains and sea.

As the ship steamed away and the mountains of Antarctica became smaller and
smaller in the distance yesterday, I went up to my favorite spot up on the
quiet and rarely-visited top deck of the ship, curled up in a corner next to
a rail with a glass of Scotch in my hands, and cried. Big wet sobs, big
rolling tears.

When the cold finally got to me and I wandered back inside, I kept coming
across others with glassy, red eyes. It turns out I wasn't the only one
affected. There were weepers on the bow, teary hugs on the bridge, people
who admitted to crying in their rooms.

What a place!

Antarctica! You beautiful, untouchable, virgin white land!

In a world of smokestacks and bustle and chaos, she stands silent at the end
of the Earth, wrapped in a shroud of inhospitality, letting only a few
outliers of humanity into her realm, and sending them home changed by a
reminder of the smallness of human affairs against the great and awesome
spectacle of Nature. Nature not in the sense of a green park, a blue sky,
and a happily chirping songbird, but Nature as a force, a process, a power.
Nature in the sense of as a glacier capable of leveling mountains, a sea
that swallows even modern ships, a winter so harsh that accessing
Antarctica's heart in winter is more difficult than going to the moon.
Antarctica is no sweet and fragile virgin to be protected; how arrogant are
we to think we can protect her or stand in the way of the forces of Earth?
Antarctica is the great, fearsome, white, enchantress queen of the South,
and we irritate her with our carelessness at our own peril.




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