Tag Archives: humpback whale

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.

Ross Sea Reflections


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.