Tag Archives: Antarctica

Antarctic Inspirations

Breakdown the word ‘inspiration.’

I’ve come to understand in the early days of 2018, that this capacious word embodies the simple act of inhaling, the source of creativity, and ultimately guidance from a divine power.

In the literal sense ‘inspiration’ means to breathe in – an inspiration and an expiration occurring in each cycle of breath. In the modern figurative sense it refers to someone or something that inspires us. But Merriam Webster says, “before inspiration was used to refer to breath it had a distinctly theological meaning…referring to a divine influence upon a person, from a divine entity….” This is the original meaning of the word from the early 14th century.

The word ‘inspiration’ strikes me as significant.

Its definitions ricochet from my right brain to my left and back again leaving me wondering how a word that I’ve been offhandedly tossing around all these years could hold such gravitas.

One solid year of dedicated meditation since my dad was diagnosed with incurable cancer has imbedded in me a profound respect for the simple necessity of inspirations and the rhythm of breathing.

My analytical, science-attuned left-brain understands ‘inspiration’ and breath as a life force. In particular, the need to uptake air, to draw in a cocktail of chemicals including oxygen that literally feeds our bodies and sustains life.

And the cleanest air on earth to imbibe? I’ve just returned from the Circumpolar Current-insulated continent that is Antarctica. Surely that southern air is the most nourishing I’ve been lucky enough to sample thus far. Its purity is unmistakable and it’s salty, chilled aftertaste smacks of vitality.

Turn to the artistic right-brain and ‘inspiration’ becomes something that cultivates our creative spirit. The ice, mountain peaks, profusion of wildlife, kindred spirit of fellow travelers, and encounters with ghosts of intrepid heroic explorers who long ago dressed in scratchy wool and frozen leather to trek the length and breath of Terra Australis – those too are ‘inspirations.’

In the Lemaire Channel with fellow traveler and dear friend Di Patterson. It was a joy to voyage together again!

The features of Antarctica are at once legendary and legends of geography, geology, biology and history that viscerally inspire me to keep reading and learning and teaching. It becomes obvious at the bottom of the world that there is always more to know and share.

Breaking ground with the Silversea Expeditions Training Academy.

I want to dole out the best bits of knowledge like bait on so many hooks, string them into a lifetime of study and exploration, and keep my audiences hooked as I reel in the line. 

Tiny penguins in the foreground are engulfed by their ‘berg in the distance.

I am also inspired to write, to paint, to create, and sing the praises of one of the most threatened places on the planet. The beauty I have been lucky enough to see over the last nine weeks is ephemeral, and changing in front of my generation’s eyes.

Deviations in climate, like trusses, now build a long tunnel with the clear light of finality shinning at the far end.

People and penguins in red, black and white stretch along the beach.

Finally, together let’s ponder the oldest meaning of the word ‘inspiration’ and come to understand independently how critically important it is to respect our differences in comprehension of the third and distinctly godly definition of the word.

For the divine definition of inspiration:

How does one discover and know divine influence?

Where does each person’s divine entity reside?

How profoundly does the divine influence each of us?

What form does your divinity take?

Are the steep, jagged, black, snow blasted slopes of Antarctic shores and the steel-blues of continental icebergs celestial enough for this brand of inspiration?

For me they are.

 

Sending everyone much love and hopes for an inspirational 2018.

Bear Island

Bear Island is the first stop on the way north from Tromso to Svalbard, an archipelago well above the Arctic Circle governed by Norway. The southern end of Bear Island is a paradise for breeding birds like the Common Guillemot and the Kittiwake, a small and elegant looking gull that screeches its own name in an incessant cacophony.

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On approach to Bear Island in the summer months you would hear thousands of birds screaming, “Kittiwake! Kittiwake!” in unison. When they fly off the steep cliffs of the island in great white waves, their opaque wings catch the bright sunlight and give you the impression of being trapped, in miniature, in the center of a snow globe that’s been shaken vigorously by a small child.

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In addition to supporting about one million nesting seabirds, the island fools me into thinking that some higher power designed the landscape specifically for Zodiacs. It is one of the most incredible places to cruise in a small inflatable boat that I have encountered anywhere on the planet.

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With a sea cave 150 meters long and massive rock arches; the thrill of driving around this island leaves a permanent grin on my face. And not only is the stone architecture impressive, but the narrow rocky ledges are the ideal nooks and crannies for all the seabirds and the strata of the island are literally covered in birds fussing over their eggs.

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In the case of the Common Guillemot, the birds lay a single egg on a narrow shelf of bare rock. The egg is pear-shaped and will spin on a small axis in the event that it is disturbed. Evolution has ensured that it won’t crash down into the sea below. The kittiwakes however construct solid nests woven with bits of vegetation and seaweed and year after year the beehive-shaped nests grow a little higher.

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In early June, the island was sprinkled with a powdered sugar layer of snow, but visiting again now in July, I see the green of the tundra taking hold and thriving in the rich guano-fed soil. I look forward to visiting again in a few weeks time when the chicks of all these hundreds of thousands of seabirds will be joining the throng.

IMG_9527 IMG_9537(Thanks to Prof. James Floyd for snapping these shots for me during our Zodiac cruise!)

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Northbound

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.

A King Penguin sizes me up.

A King Penguin sizes me up.

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.

A snow petrel perches on the railing of the bridge one snowy morning.

A snow petrel perches on the railing of the bridge one snowy morning.

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.

Cape Evans, home of Scott's hut from the early 1900s and his Antarctic Expeditions.

Cape Evans, home of Scott’s hut from the early 1900s and his Antarctic Expeditions. Mt. Erebus is in the distance.

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.

A New Zealand Falcon studies our group as we pass through the rata forest on Enderby Island.

A New Zealand Falcon studies our group as we pass through the rata forest on Enderby Island.

A Buller's Albatross buzzes my Zodiac at the Snares.

A Buller’s Albatross buzzes my Zodiac at the Snares.

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.

A young New Zealand Fur Seal checks us out.

A young New Zealand Fur Seal checks us out.

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.

A group of Orca young and old travel with the ship.

A group of Orca young and old travel with the ship.

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.

An iceberg catches the glow of one incredible midnight Ross Sea sunset.

An iceberg catches the glow of one incredible midnight Ross Sea sunset.

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.

Hiking around the Enderby Island coastline.

Hiking around the Enderby Island coastline.

Ross Sea sunset.

Ross Sea sunset.

Mahalo.

A Weddell Seal enjoys the early morning quiet behind Scott's hut at Cape Evans.

A Weddell Seal enjoys the early morning quiet behind Scott’s hut at Cape Evans.

Antarctic Reflections

Ok, first impressions of the southern-most continent and the Ross Sea: besides the biting, bitter cold even now in the “warm” summer months, the biggest impression I come away with is the absolute, stark contrast of the bleak, black volcanic landscape and the bright, white of the snow and panorama of cascading glaciers.

Cape Royd's the home of Shackleton's Hut.
Cape Royd’s the home of Shackleton’s Hut.

This is a place of white upon black in an infinity of patterns – a gigantic empty and convoluted chessboard devoid of vegetation – I’ve yet to see a single lichen.  The lack of greenery, grasses or moss is startling to the eye and verges on disturbing.  I can only suppose this is what the surface of the moon would look like with snow.

Thousands of years of Antarctic snow and ice.

Thousands of years of Antarctic snow and ice.

We passed Mt Erebus on our way to McMurdo Station and the furthest south this ship has ever sailed.  The top of the colossal volcano was sheathed in clouds at first, and I underestimated its size judging purely by a few glaciers and bare black rock patches revealed through the cloud cover.  When the atmosphere finally lifted and the top of the mountain came into view it undeniably trumped the already impressive landscape around it and nestled at its foot the imposing infrastructure of McMurdo Station housing over 1000 people each year.

McMurdo Station, the US Antarctic research base with an imposing Mt. Erebus volcano in the distance.

McMurdo Station, the US Antarctic research base with an imposing Mt. Erebus volcano in the distance.

Dressing up to go ashore to visit historic huts, or out in Zodiacs to look for wildlife, is an adventure in and of itself.  I give myself about 30 minutes to get ready to go outside for a few hours at a time.

From the feet up I put on:

–         tall merino wool liner socks

–         brushed wool ski socks

–         two pairs of polypropylene long underwear bottoms

–         warm fleece pants

–         polypropylene top

–         merino wool top

–         thick pile turtleneck shirt

–         fleece vest

–         down jacket

–         foul weather bib overalls

–         foul weather jacket with an extra high fleece-lined collar

–         merino wool glove liners

–         insulated rubber waterproof outer gloves

–         balaclava

–         fleece neck warmer

–         wool and fleece-lined ski hat

–         insulated muck boots

And to top it off I use adhesive toe and hand warmers inside my boots and gloves for a little bit of externally generated warmth – insurance against my poor circulatory system.

All geared up and standing above Scott's Hut at Cape Evans.

All geared up and standing above Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans.

The effort is well worth it because our excursions have been fantastic insights into the history and wildlife of this isolated land.  The huts we have visited were built roughly 100 years ago during the heroic age of exploration by characters including Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton.  To stand in a small wooden building full of artifacts used by these early explorers and imagine what it must have been like to live shoulder-to-shoulder with 15 men in the heart of a brutal Antarctic winter is tremendous.

The inside of Shackleton's Hut at Cape Royd's.  The contents have been preserved and restored with great care.

The inside of Shackleton’s Hut at Cape Royd’s. The contents have been preserved and restored with great care.

I paint a portrait in my mind of the ruthless and never-ending strains on human physiology, biology and mental balance.  I imagine the colors of the hut’s provisions must have been a comfort.  Blue and orange biscuit tins, green glass spice jars, a yellow Coleman’s mustard tin, mulligatawny soup in a red can – all a balm for the eye in contrast to the wicked and wild, white world outside, the rough brown woolen clothes and spare wooden floorboards and tabletops, the black cast-iron stove and opaque blubber smoke.

An assortment of provisions inside Shackleton's hut.  The shelves are made from packing crates for his 1907 expedition.

An assortment of provisions inside Shackleton’s hut. The shelves are made from packing crates for his 1907 expedition.

In terms of wildlife, we have walked amongst thousands of Adelie penguins in their raucous colonies, come across about a dozen tall Emperor penguins molting miserably on floating chunks of ice often sharing the floe with crabeater, Weddell, and elephant seals, and have crossed paths with whales including humpbacks, Minkes, fins and orca.  While the diversity of species is low – our only seabird companions for days have been Antarctic and Snow Petrels – the biomass is great, and the sheer numbers of animals are hugely impressive.

A massive colony of Adelie penguins with chicks on Franklin Island.

A massive colony of Adelie penguins with chicks on Franklin Island.

It’s been a joy to wake each day and greet the Southern Ocean in all of its different moods.  Days have been blue-gray and speckled with white foam from wind and low clouds.  Mornings have hailed us with fat snowflakes and chunks of sea ice forming in the rounded corners of porthole windows.  Evenings have inspired me with mirror-flat glassy seas, the wake of the ship cutting ribbons of shadow into the velvet waters reflecting imposing mountainous shorelines.

An Adelie penguin chick eyes me and my camera on Franklin Island.

An Adelie penguin chick eyes me and my camera on Franklin Island.

Life is simple down here.  The mantra is stay warm, eat your fill, do your job, sleep when you can – generally cat naps through the night between peaking waves – and above all stay alert and absorb like a sponge this chance of a lifetime to sail through the Ross Sea.

Albatross

SubAntarctic Islands

Distance is relative.  Spending a day – or three – at sea to reach a remote island in the Southern Ocean has become my normal commute over the past month spent exploring the Sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand and Australia.  These far-flung ancient rock formations jut up a few hundred meters from the shallow surrounding continental shelf, often perched right on an abyssal precipice.

A glacially carved Campbell Island in the New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands.

A glacially carved Campbell Island in the New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands.

A couple of the larger, higher islands like Auckland and Campbell Island were covered in glacial ice during the last ice age, and so are graced with gently sloping U-shaped valleys and rounded hilltops.  Nestled down in the fog, and in the moss and lichen-soft greens and muted golden browns of both these substantial islands, are paper-white nesting albatrosses like origami cranes perched in a sea salt-pruned bonsai landscape.  Friendly pipits hop and flit around your feet with insect laden beaks, and sweeping views peppered with blooming red rata flowers reward the committed hiker.

A pipit feeds its near-grown chick on Campbell Island.

A pipit feeds its near-grown chick on Campbell Island.

But, nothing compares to Macquarie Island.  It is the only place on the planet where the sea floor rises above sea level.  By some incongruous feat of tectonic geology, two oceanic plates collided and rose upwards together instead of subducting one below the other, as is the usual decorum of molten seabed rock.  Massive fields of pillow lava that once bubbled up from the red-hot Earth’s mantle under miles of water, lie like overlapping and inflated fish scales on terra firma.  But the beaches…the beaches are thick with busy penguins commuting back and forth from the dunes to the salty shores, or stand precariously balancing behemoth eggs on their webbed feet.

Regal king penguins are thick on the shores of Macquarie Island.

Regal king penguins are thick on the shores of Macquarie Island.

Mammoth, lazy elephant seals seem to melt into the sand on the beach thanks to the sheer weight of their hulking bodies.  Some are grumpy and irritated as they clearly suffer painfully through a catastrophic molting event and it’s wise to stay clear of them and the shreds of fur peeling slowly off of their hulking bodies.  Others are young and curious, and will shuffle up towards you while you kneel in the sand meters away, and then watch you intently with their moon-pie black eyes, trying to figure out if you are friend or foe, or simply a speed bump on their way back to the ocean.

A young elephant seal rests on the shores of Macquarie Island.

A young elephant seal rests on the shores of Macquarie Island.

In other places, penguins stand shoulder-to-shoulder in massive colonies struggling in the mud to find their chicks and feed them a hot, regurgitated seafood slaw.  The penguins rocking back and forth on their heels, or scurrying along the outskirts of the colony in a straight line, look a bit like the hippies at Woodstock on day three – dazed and confused, exhausted and hungry, covered in sticky, smelly brown mud, and hustling along to get to the next good thing.  The bedlam is mesmerizing, smelly, and astounding.

 

Surrounded by a royal penguin colony -- like Woodstock on day three...

Surrounded by a royal penguin colony — like Woodstock on day three…

Now the ship heads south to Antarctica and distance becomes even more relative.  We have been at sea for 5 days already, and will probably be out for a couple more until we reach the sea ice and then the continent at long last.  I saw my first real iceberg today and felt born again – christened by its shades of blue and gray – and by the spires of ice and the age and the size and the flurry of birds all around.  There are no words.  I will try to write again when we are closer to the great southern continent.

My first Antarctic iceberg, deep in the Southern Ocean.

My first Antarctic iceberg, deep in the Southern Ocean.

 

Gearing Up for Antarctica

It seems crazy that several weeks have gone by since I got home from my last contract in Indo and Australia.  That whole time I’ve been packing.  And by that I mean literally packing my stuff for this next adventure, but also packing in as much time with friends, family, and favorite places as I possibly can.

Packing

Most of my gear for three months in the way, way South ready to be packed!

Spending time with my new nephew Parker and my beautiful, smart nieces has been high on my list, as well as:

– Surfing Rhode Island’s amazing waves

– Celebrating my birthday at a best friend’s wedding with great people

– Living and feasting on the beach in Newport for a few weeks, despite the cold digs

– Reading everything I could get my hands on about the “Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration”

– Visiting my dear friends in the Florida Keys where I was in, or on, the water every day

– Running and yoga

– Spoiling and exercising my dog

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Playing with Vega in the fresh snow-filled woods of New Hampshire

And now, as 2013 comes to a close, I’m getting my fill of smart, provocative, and hopeful stories that seem to sum up a positive direction in our world.  I realize that it’s not all Yahtzee and Mai Tais out there in the sea of humanity, but I’m seeing some great and inspiring stuff happen.  If you have some time to be amazed (and who doesn’t?), then I recommend the following videos and websites and I’m sure there are many more out there:

Hugs Hammocks:  Handmade Hammocks from the, Philippines to Benefit Those Affected by Typhoon Yolanda

TED Rachel Botsman: The Currency of the New Economy is Trust

Ken ‘Skindog’ Collins Responds to Laird Hamilton  (Laird had a condescending and negative reaction to a female surfer charging the biggest waves of the year in Portugal)

One Time A Guy Gave A Homeless Man A Computer And The Recipient Did Exactly What the Giver Expected

TED Hans Rosling: The Good News of the Decade?

TED Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

Aaron’s Last Wish in Newport, RI

Happy holidays everyone!

I’ll send out my next Travel Logs from New Zealand, the Sub-Antarctic Islands, and the Ross Sea, Antarctica.

Cheers.

~~ Kit

The Antarctic Summer of 2013-2014 will find me exploring the Ross Sea.

The Antarctic Summer of 2013-2014 will find me exploring the Ross Sea.