So, it’s been a rough week. A rough year. Sitting down to write feels like wading through molasses. There is always so much to sift through, that I don’t know whether to voice outrage, frustration, hopes or insights. Do I respond to protests and incomprehensible tweets by world leaders? Or do I let our current global challenges slide to the side and reminisce about the days when we could move around freely? Do I write about my greatest fears for our world or my tentative hope?
Truthfully, I spend a lot of my creative energy these days just trying to do my job – trying to create engaging, meaningful college courses that I teach through a screen – all about weather and climate. This takes place a 5-second walk from where I sleep, and eat, and shower, and think, and live my life. But because of what I teach, what I do each day feels much more meaningful now than ever, even those moments when we delve into the gory mathematical details of directional derivatives and radiative transfer.
But I’m reaching out today because I have a big milestone birthday coming up: the HALF CENTURY MARK. This is a big one right? It’s a big one, but there will be no party, no fancy dinner out, no room full of black balloons and people dancing to greatest hits from the ’80’s. (Don’t buy balloons, anyway. They’re bad for the environment. Not to mention that anything from the 80’s is probably bad for the environment – maybe even the music.)
But there is something that would make this birthday hugely meaningful and special, and I could use your help.
“You want to have everything clean before serving tea,” says my great-aunt Anna as she brushes crumbs from her kitchen tablecloth and sets out the tea stand. She moves slowly, using her cane as she shuffles to the refrigerator to pull out the cream. She’s 98 years old – maybe the only person I know who’s more than twice my age. She’s the only person on this planet allowed to pinch my cheeks. I ask if I can help her with anything, but she shakes her head and keeps pulling dishes out of her cupboard.
It’s been more than 100 days since coronavirus came to town. One hundred and six days, exactly, since Friday, March 13th, when I last stood before a classroom full of students. I remember the buzz in the air – the fear, the disbelief, the concern, the uncertainty. We thought we were going to be having classes online for only a couple of weeks. I remember washing my hands until my skin was dry and chapped that day, because, back then, we thought that contact was the primary mode of transmission.
I would have been a lot more freaked out if I knew it could float through the air on someone’s exhale – someone who didn’t appear infected.
I think that there is always a brief moment, when the world begins to lurch in a new direction, when we all try to deny what we’re feeling – when we try to deny that everything is off kilter. A few weeks ago, I gathered with a group of women from Homeward Bound via Zoom for a community yoga class. At some point, in a balance pose, I remembered the disequilibrium I felt crossing the Drake Passage in a storm. The initial rise in ocean swell came on slowly. So slowly, it was hard to tell anything was changing, except for the stirrings in my stomach.
Crossing the Drake Passage aboard the MV Ushuaia in a storm in January 2019. Photo from a video filmed by Lesley Sefcik. I think, for many of us, life right now feels somewhat like being on a ship in a storm.
Day 4 of Serious Social Distancing: It’s March in Colorado, which means the weather is up and down. The Poudre Learning Center in Greeley, CO was a great place to stay away from people.
Let’s get right to the point: Life is quite different today, for a lot of us, than it was a couple of weeks ago. And the uncertainty that hangs in the air about the coming weeks (months?) is gnawing at you. Maybe you felt it coming. I know I did. I felt cranky all through early March. The news of coronavirus filtered through into my subconscious – still third-page news, but it was there, and something didn’t feel right.
That was the time before the time when everything changed.
Listening to an episode of Science Friday recently about efforts to save corals made me cry. I guess you could say my emotions are sitting very close to the surface in the early days of this new decade. Like a lot of people, I usually spend some of this time around the turn of the calendar in reflection. While there is always pressure to celebrate and set goals and aspirations for making life better in the coming year – or coming decade – this particular New Year’s has left me much more contemplative than happy. We have so much work we need to do to sustain this planet and ourselves in the coming years, and the enormity of it all has hit me on an emotional level.
Sometime after our first week on the ship, we learned not to ask where we would be going next, or where we would be stopping. Our itinerary was completely dependent on weather, ice, and the comings and goings of other ships in the region. So it wasn’t really a surprise when we were told that we would be making our way back north across the Drake Passage a day earlier than expected. There were two storms coming, we were told, and the captain wanted to outrace the second storm.
Ok – But what about that first storm?
We tried not to think about it too much so we could enjoy one last landing in Antarctica at Deception Island. Because the captain was really eager to get going, we wouldn’t have much time onshore as the ship would be headed out to open sea by 10:30 am.
Everyone was up and on deck early in the morning for our approach to Neptune’s Bellows, the narrow entrance into the caldera at Deception Island.
As I write this, the fourth Homeward Bound cohort – 100 women from 33 countries – are exploring the Antarctic Peninsula as they work toward empowering themselves and each other to take on leadership roles in this world as it undergoes rapid transformation. Since my own journey to Antarctica last January, I’ve been posting stories here about our trip. The past few weeks I’ve been prompted to relive my experience by updates from Homeward Bound and friends in my HB cohort. I realized I still have a few photos and stories to share from our journey. Today, let me take you to the post office.
Penguins and people clustering around the museum, gift shop and post-office at Port Lockroy.
Another day in Antarctica. A layer of stratus hangs over the Melchior archipelago, sending thick, grey undulating waves over the group of small islands. These snow-capped islands sit in glossy black water like scoops of ice cream floating in dark root beer. There is an abandoned Argentinian base here, but we’re not doing any landings. Instead, we’re in the zodiacs cruising for views of seals, penguins, and fantastical ice sculptures. We meander in and out of rocky coves painted in lichens and moss.
I sometimes like to imagine that the people I have loved and lost are sitting on my shoulders, riding along through life with me, marveling at the world as much as I do.
Last January, I stepped onto the continent of Antarctica. I’m fairy certain I’m the first person in the history of my family to do that. In the months leading up to my trip to Antartica, I thought a lot about my Mom – how thrilled she would have been to go on a trip like this. Or, at the very least, she would have followed every tidbit of news from Homeward Bound about our journey. She passed away five years ago on June 1st, but I clearly felt her with me as we stepped off the zodiac for our continental landfall.
My perspective, standing on Antarctica. It’s much warmer than I thought it would be.