The end of a voyage is always bittersweet. As I write, we are anchored off Macquarie Island and hordes of kings penguins are diving around the ship flashing their golden yellow neck feathers and bright white bellies at us in a froth of wind-whipped, clear aqua blue water.
While I love this moment, I struggle to stay in it as my thoughts are drawn from the three months I’ve spent in New Zealand, the Sub-Antarctic Islands, and Antarctica, to my friends and family back at home. It’s hard not to look forward to laughter, hugs, home cooking, cuddles with my chubby new nephew and beautiful nieces, and slobbering kisses from the hound.
In the meantime, memories of countless days spent on remote islands in the southernmost latitudes of our planet are nestling down into the coils of my grey matter.
I will always remember watching the wildlife here through the broad spectrum of moments that guarantee their survival. And while all the scenery I have encountered throughout this southern season is stunning, it is the wildlife that animates it in a cacophony of sounds, sights, and smells. The animals embody the spirit of the place, illustrate the grit and determination of survival, and enlighten us all in our voyage of discovery.
Thinking back, I recollect scenes as varied as the tender feedings of mother penguins, cormorants and pipits – to their young beak-to-beak – and a newly born sea lion on the beach; to the violence of skuas picking apart another sea lion just meters away while it’s still breathing, or the frenzy of giant fiordland bottlenose dolphins beating a white-water track across glassy inlets to feed on a school of fish.
I will always recall following a huge pod of jet-black orca harboring their young between the stout bodies of the adults flying along between waves and using their centerboard-like dorsal fins for stability.
In the Ross Sea I watched those same slivers of dorsal fins ply the water along the ice edge searching for seals and penguins perched up on the floes, ready for the taking.
Friends, family, smiling baby, and smelly dog – I’ll see you very soon. To the wild places and wild things down here, I bid you farewell and hope that I have a chance to return some day. Until that time I will treasure these new memories and promise to serve them up again, through photos, stories, and words, at opportune moments throughout my life.