Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Looking back, I am embarrassed by my ignorance. Even those parts of my not knowing that have been erased by this journey still cause me shame. I thought it would be colder on this most southern continent. I thought this would be a black and white world, not one infused with brilliant blue-green or patched with rich shades of orange and yellow. I thought we had plenty of time to fix the hurt we are inflicting on the earth. I did not think I would miss the stars. I did not know I would be pierced to the core of my being by the sharp cries of the glacier dying.
Whether I am walking the coast, or sitting by a window and writing, or boating to one of the islands, I hear the glacier crying. She breathes the burning air, and her lungs collapse. She groans. She turns her face to the sun and loses clumps of hair to the fire. She presses into the earth, sloughing skin in giant handfuls. She screams. I fear her passing. Tears brighten my eyes.
I have come too close, sounds of the glacier dying will echo forever inside my head. I touched her. I cannot pull away—the palms of my hands are frozen to her skin.
My soul stepped onto the peninsula sleepy and complacent, it leaves wounded and afraid, but fear makes me stronger. And while I know the earth has plenty of time to heal, the knowledge that my own people teeter on the edge of extinction scares me.
(Photograph courtesy of Dan Jennings)
Friday, November 30, 2007
How long, once I leave here, before I shut the window in my mind that drinks in the beauty of the moment, the wonder of the world, the exquisiteness of being, the preciousness of family and friends?
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Forty-five tons of muscle, body over 50-feet long, he arches and dives. The water around the zodiac swirls. He circles us, rises, sprays, lifts his back, and slides beneath the gently rocking waves.
“How close do you think he came?” someone says, voice low, eyes scanning the water.
Close enough to reach out and touch, I think. This idea is unsettling. I am suddenly aware of how small we are—four of us in a boat no wider than one whale fin.
“Here he comes again,” one of my companions shouts and points. He skims beneath the boat, and I imagine that I am reflected in his eye.
The humpback floats underneath our zodiac, white belly shimmering in the blue water. He stretches his fins as though he is measuring our little craft. I hang over the side of the boat. His slender fin extends well beyond the edge of the zodiac. His rippled chin is just beneath the bow of our boat. In my head I hear a song. A tear wells in my eye, but I cannot tell if it is because the song is joyful or sad. Perhaps this is just the feeling of being present in the moment, focused, in awe.
Again he emerges, but farther this time. When he arches his back, his tail rises. I wave.
I search for words to express my gratitude, some sound that he will know, but I have none. If I stay here long enough, I will end up not able to talk at all.
(Many thanks to Stacie Murray for allowing me to use her wonderful pictures.)
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Cutting, carving, etching ever deeper
Helping hide the secrets meant to keep her
Weeping and alone, not allowed to rest.
Why once did she agree to play a game
As cold and white as winter wind and snow
That left her soul with nowhere else to go
Made happiness and hurt seem all the same?
It matters not what promises were spoken
Or love betrayed or truth in silence lost
Now laugh and live and love and not know when
The pale, warming sun might rise within
And give of self no matter what the cost
That frees her crying, dying heart again.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
The glacier rolls over in her sleep, and groans. The sound makes my eyes heavy, and I yawn. I climb inside the tent and wrap myself inside the down sleeping bag. I close my eyes and let my thoughts dig deep inside the earth. The elephant seals trumpet, and from inside the tent it sounds as though they are swimming in the water right below me. I take a deep breath to check for the telltale odor that gives them away, but all I smell is air cleansed by snow, wind, and salt.
My eyes open, but I can’t tell whether it is the boom of the glacier calving or the waxing light that wakes me. Snow pelts the tent, enticing me back into sleep. My eyes flutter, but I force them open, unzip the entrance to the tent, and peek outside in the hopes of seeing the glacier calve. Later I find out that the spray of ice precedes the noise by long enough that to hear the calving means I have missed seeing the glacier disgorge herself. How the earth withstands this great pressure is beyond my comprehension.
Her compassion, her endless tolerance of the burdens we place upon her will kill us one day. We will simply take from her until she has nothing left to give. She won't complain. We will wither at a breast we have sucked dry and wonder at her selfishness while we die.
Afraid I have already overslept, I check my watch—4:11 a.m. The sun has been up for at least an hour now, but I can close my eyes for a while longer. I bury my head in down and dream that the sun chases me across the sky. When I awake again, I find this time I have overslept. Still, I want to stay here forever, wrapped in down, listening, laughing, loving the snow and the surf, the seals and the glacier whispering secrets in my ear while I race the sun across the sky.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
I walk along the shore, cliffs laced with ice, crackling when the sun touches them. I go to think about art, about describing what I see and hear and smell, but mostly what I feel. The glacier moving sounds like gunshots or like old bones creaking.
Clean air smells like nothing, but if an elephant seal comes in range, the air fills with its musk. The sea moves, the sky, the wind, the waves. Clouds swoop down like a skua snatching an egg from a penguin nest. Wind stirs whitecaps on the bay, but most of the movement is inside the glacier and invisible. On my side of the harbor, icicles cover the rocky cliffs and break under the weight of the sun peeking through the clouds. Skittering through a maze of frozen lace, they chime. The glacier snaps and groans. And while I smile at the sight of the sun, the glacier weeps. Growlers hiss and pop, bits of ice bump each other or the rocks.
On the way back, the glacier calves, spewing bits of ice and powder into the bay. The water surges, rocking the growlers at the base of the ice cliffs. A few minutes later the waves hit the opposite shore. All this noise and yet I am alone.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
The adélie penguins eat only krill, and if they don't change their species may soon be extinct. Petermann Island sits at the southern border of the gentoo range and the northern edge of the adélies range. Over the past five years the temperatures have risen, the glacier is melting, the sea ice is thinner, the krill are less abundant. For the gentoo this change has meant they can extend their feeding and breeding range. But for the adélies penguins the warmer temperatures mean dwindling numbers. Five years ago the scientists on Petermann Island counted 2000 pairs of adélies and 60 pairs of gentoos. Last year the tally was adélie 500, gentoo 2000.
I look at the glacier edge and at the surface of the sea in much the same way, wondering, “What secrets are you hiding?” Gazing at the ocean I see only the surface of the water and a few feet down. I gaze at a distant crevasse and imagine it as an unspoken invitation to enter the world beneath the ice. These things remind me that for all our accumulated learning, we know so little. On the walk back we veered closer to the shore, and as close to the edge of the glacier as we’re allowed to approach. Where the snow had melted we see boulders emerging, glistening with the runoff of yesterday’s snow. Palmer Station, Torgersen and Litchfield Islands, and some of the other smaller islands that I can’t yet identify by shape dot the landscape below us. The clouds swoop in on the breeze coming from the sea, and the surface of the water turns grey, bits of ice bobbing at the surface. Ice dots the bay looking like a vast room covered in sculpture. One looks like a swan.
Monday, November 12, 2007
There is ice floating in the water, and the temperature stays pretty steady at around 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Zee, who works on station, described it best. "It's like jumping into a glass of ice water." If anyone is curious what it feels like, you can fill a small basin with water and ice and put your hand in it.
Most people can withstand the cold for about 10 or 15 minutes before hypothermia sets in. If you would like to see more pictures of the jumpers, I have posted a few to the photo album on mollyfinn.com.
Penguins are so well adapted to the climate that they have smooth skin on the inside of their wings so that they can vent air when they get too hot from zipping around the water chasing krill. (BTW...Troy and Morgan asked some good questions about these topics, and I have published a partial reply to the 10 November post.
I have to follow up on the question about krill to make sure that I have the right information.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Depart Denver for Punta Arenas. In Dallas I recognize a few faces when we go to board the flight to Santiago. We are all headed for the LMG, the Nathaniel B Palmer, or Palmer Station.
We'll spend the day in Punta Arenas. Our appointment to pick up (and try on) our ECW (extreme cold weather) gear is at 10 a.m.
We tour the cemetery after we get our gear and have lunch at Lomito's. (Excellent sandwiches, not to be missed if you are ever in the city.) The statuary and gardens are impressive and peaceful. Most of the grave sites have a photo of the departed and perhaps some items that they treasured in life. Many have been planted over with spring flowers--tulips, daffodils, and violets along with many varieties I'm not familiar with.
After lunch we hike up to the top of the city and take pictures. We pass through the plaza on the way to the ship and kiss the toe of the indio. Local lore says this means we will one day return.
We overnight on the ship.
Departed Punta Arenas on the Laurence M Gould. Spent the first two days deep breathing the fresh sea air and napping while we became accustomed to the pitch and roll of the ship. Sighted Commerson's dolphins in the Straits of Magellan. Lovely black and white creatures that zip through the water, diving just as they approach the bow of the boat.
The intervals between naps and trips outside to stand in the sea breeze shrinks steadily. I dread the thought of entering the Drake Passage. The crew has been telling stories of seas so rough and rocky that they end up walking on the walls.
The passage through the Drake, while rougher than the Straits of Magellan, is relatively calm. Two days on the ship has most of us accustomed to the motion and feeling quite a bit better than we had the first two days.
We are putting in a camp at Cape Shirreff. This is a protected wilderness requiring special permits to access. The science team we are dropping off will study the penguins and the seals--elephant and fur--that come here to breed. The team will be staying five months so we are delivering quite a bit of food and other supplies along with them. The skies are overcast and the sea is rough. The wind--at 20 or so knots--makes the water choppy. We time our drop into the zodiac and hunker down in the boat for a bumpy, wet ride. We load supplies on sleds and pull them the quarter mile up a hill to the team's camp. Snow drifts reach the roof of the cabin on the seaward side of the building. Kim and I help dig out the propane tanks that supply fuel to heat the building. When the supplies begin to arrive, we hike down to shore, help unload the boats, load the sleds, and pull the sleds to the hut. A team at the hut inventories the supplies and stores them.
Between loads we watch the seals swimming in the cove. We see Weddell and fur seals. A short hike away the male elephant seals have begun to arrive and are lolling on the shore. A few penguins waddle up and down the slopes.
When the last load has been hauled to the huts we wave goodbye to the team, wish them luck, and head back to the ship.
We are frozen and exhausted as we climb aboard. Again we time our transfer to the swell of the waves to keep from being tossed into the water or pinched between the boat and the ladder.
At dinner everyone's cheeks are pink from windburn, but we are all happy to know that the five we've left behind are well on their way to being settled in.
Arrive Palmer for a brief two-hour stop. We are dropping off the station manager and picking up volunteers to help with the put-in tomorrow at Petermann.
Awoke early for the trip through the stark and stunning Lemaire Channel. Blue sky peeks through the clouds. The water is as still and shiny as black polished marble. Wrapped in clouds and brushed with snow and ice, the peaks stretch skyward, the sharp angles perfectly mirrored in the water below. I am wishing for another whale sighting, which is not to be. Instead we see a leopard seal and her pup sunning themselves on a bit of ice floating in the channel. Penguins leap and dart through the water. Slow and clumsy on land, they are incredibly graceful in the sea. Across the bridge someone shouts and points. "Leopard seal," he says, and everyone crowds the windows, searching.
"It's chasing that penguin," a woman reports. "It's got it." She lays the binoculars aside. We watch the penguins until they disappear in the wake of the ship's passing. We round a corner, and to our left is Scott's Peak. To our right Petermann Island. We don our float coats and secure the beaver tails. We dip our boots and scrub the soles before we climb aboard the zodiac.
When we reach the docking point, Vlad and Constantine are there to greet us. We are the first humans (beside each other) they have seen in eight months. Vlad is a biologist from the Ukraine doing field research. I am not sure about Constantine's background, but I believe he is supporting Vlad's research.
They help us disembark and unload the zodiac and then take off to do their research. The day is warm and after a little exertion everyone begins to shed layers, some down to shirt sleeves. It is a perfect, windless, warm and sunny day.
Penguins are scattered across the island, some on the high cliffs, others near the sea. The ones swimming look like white darts zig-zagging through the water. Several pairs surround the refugio (emergency shelter/supply hut) built by the Argentines and currently occupied by the Russians. The team we are "putting in" we live in tents less than a quarter of a mile from the coast. The island is small, less than a mile wide. We watch the penguins, and they watch us. They are curious, cute, and amusing creatures.
The camp is nearest a colony of gentoos and at the end of the day we hike up the hill to take a look at the adelies. As the climate becomes warmer, the adelies struggle but the gentoos, better adapted to warmer climes, are expanding their range to locations farther south than they have been seen before. We also see some blue-eyed shags. They remind me of trim, alert penguins. They build their nests from sea grass on the edges of the cliffs right among the penguin colonies.
We go back to the ship tired, hungry, and sunburned.
Arrived Palmer Station and have been learning our way around as well as basic safety. Tonight some of my shipmates and I are planning to walk up the glacier.
I hope this catches you up a bit with our adventures.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
I have a snappy green and black outfit to wear on the plane. I can't help but wonder what people are going to think of me heading into the southern hemisphere dressed for winter. I suppose they will issue us coats, gloves, and polar boots in Punta Arenas, but it seems strange (apparently not possible for me) to head to Polar Regions without a coat in hand. Such are the dilemmas of the adventurer--green hat or blue? one book or two? winter boots or dress shoes?
Thanks for all your wishes for luck and fun adventuring. I may not be online for a few days. Not sure what connectivity will be in transit.
Hugs to all,
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Monday, October 29, 2007
Rarely does my mind even turn to what goes in the suitcase sooner than the night before departure, but this is two months! Last night I dreamed about packing and, on the bright side, the suitcase seemed to be a cousin to Mary Poppin's bottomless case. On the dark side, I just couldn't seem to get everything stuffed inside my Dimension 10 Samonsite. My palms were sweaty with the fear of not getting to the plane on time. Then I woke up.
The bed is still a mess, but I have not missed my plane.
Thank you all for the great suggestions on what to take along. The most unusual might be "ginger chews." I'll let you know how well they work on the high seas. Hmm...another strange one: vodka. Does vodka have some "anti-freeze" properties to keep the blood from turning to ice? The most unexpected: Sorel socks. They are warm!
If I'm missing anything, it's my own fault. Thank you all again for your suggestions and support.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Did you know there is an amazing lady, Lynne Cox, who swam for 30 minutes in the freezing waters of Antarctica? Does anyone know why some fish, whales, penguins, and seals can swim in those cold waters?
Questions are the one thing I can think of the brilliant people all have in common. Most of the questions will require:
1. Careful observation
2. Quiet contemplation
3. Asking more questions
4. Writing down the answers
As I discover the answers, I will record them in this blog.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
--Definitely not! That would be so un-Kate like.
However, I will concede to having placed some items on the bed in the guest room so that I can have a visual list of what I yet need to take along. So far the bed is strewn with merino wool undergarments, wrinkle-proof pants, shirts, a fleece jacket, miscellaneous pieces of paper, purple pens, anti-nausea medication, one of those wrist bracelets that is supposed to help with sea sickness, and Tootsie Pops.
Any other suggestions?
Shall we start one of those raffles like they do for football games or the birth of a new baby? Anyone want to guess what will be the first exotic creature I will see and on what day?
I'll award a signed copy of Molly Finn and the City under the Sea to the winner. Everyone else has to buy a copy on Amazon.com...
You can post your entries to the blog, but no repeats. If repeats appear, the first post wins the prize.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
I was asked about my itinerary and travel route, so thought I'd post a calendar. The map is from the Office of Polar Programs and, by extension, the University of Texas map archive. Texans must like maps because the original request for my logistics also came from a Texan...
In case--like me--you have vision challenges, here is the plan in plain English....
November 1 Depart Denver for Santiago, Chile
November 2 Depart Santiago for Punta Arenas
November 3 Board the Laurence M Gould
November 4 Sail from Punta Arenas to Palmer Station, Antarctica (ATA)
November 10 Arrive Palmer Station, ATA
I'll post the tentative plan for the return journey separately.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Saturday, October 20, 2007
We met at the Cliff House, a restored historical building nestled into the foothills at the base of Pikes Peak. Between sessions authors, presenters, and attendees gathered on the huge wrap-around porch, sipped Rocky Mountain spring water, and talked books.
Another unusual and appealing aspect of the conference was the fact that young writers and book lovers attended the sessions. For a writer of young adult fiction, what a delight to have my readership attend the workshops. What a great way to support new writers and avid readers of all ages.
Who knew writing could lead to so many adventures? In less than two weeks, I'll be heading to Antarctica as a part of my grant sponsored by the National Science Foundation. I'll be observing and assisting scientists and gathering research for an upcoming novel in the Molly Finn series. If you want to follow this "cool" adventure, submit a question, or share your own icy adventures, click on the Antarctica tab on the Molly Finn website.
Will we find evidence of merlife on the frozen continent? I hope so!