Tag Archives: King penguin

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.

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.

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.