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.
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.
The smell was thing I wasn’t quite prepared for. I didn’t realize Antarctica would smell like the end of a fishing pier, where gulls spend their days fighting over rotting fish guts as clouds of seal breath waft up from the water below. Although, I should have expected it. Penguins are not much different from gulls. If their biology allowed it, I’m sure they would be perfectly happy to be trash birds. They certainly don’t mind wallowing in their poop. Continue reading
After more than a year of anticipation, the clock is ticking down. On New Year’s Eve I set sail for Antarctica from Ushuaia, Argentina with 80+ women from around the world! Over the past year, we’ve gotten to know each other – through video conferencing, lengthy Facebook threads, and a few in-person meet-ups. We’ve shared stories about our lives, our passions, and our hopes for this world. We’ve been prompted to delve deep into our own stories – the stories we tell ourselves about what we can do, and what’s holding us back. And we’ve been exploring questions about our role in this world – a world that has been tumbling through what is clearly becoming the largest mass extinction in 65 million years.
In 50 days I set sail with Homeward Bound for Antarctica.
This is the culmination of my year-long professional development journey with 80 other women scientists from around the world. In the past 10 months, through discussions, reading, self-reflection, we’ve explored what it to be a woman in science, what leadership means, and what does it take to compel others to take action on climate change. We don’t always have the answers. But we have enthusiasm – and a growing conviction that there are solutions.
We brought all of our rain gear. Jackets, pants, boots. A cover for my backpack. Those super-tough zip-lock bags for protecting odds and ends in case you get stuck in a deluge. The last thing I really expected when our flight landed at Shannon Airport on the 4th of July in the southwest of Ireland was sunshine and warm weather. That’s not the image of Ireland I had preserved in my memory.
Coming from Colorado, we were hoping for some cooler, wetter weather. Certainly, it was cooler, 75 F, not 95 F. From the moment I stepped off onto the tarmac (because Shannon airport is one of those places where you still have to walk across the tarmac) I could feel that coastal dampness that seeps into my pores every time I get near a body of water. My Colorado skin is like a dry sponge – greedy for moisture wherever it can find it. But the blue sky was a surprise.
I was recently reminded how bears can turn ordinary people into a frantic band of smart-phone wielding paparazzi. Why are people so fascinated by bears? We imagine them as vicious killers (just google ‘Stephen Colbert’ and ‘bears’, and your will be reminded of how he often joked about them as ‘Godless killing machines’), but I think we also find them cute and cuddly. A bear with cubs at Yellowstone National Park will back up traffic for miles, as we discovered on a recent trip to the park.
People will leave their cars in the middle of the road, emergency lights flashing, tripods and cameras in hand, and RUN to a better view point. While people tend to keep the required distance of 100 yards from the bear, I think the road gives them a false sense of security. Surely, a bear won’t cross a road, will she?
In the wake of Valentine’s Day earlier this month, I thought I’d say this: No need to panic, people – chocolate is not going extinct. Earlier this year, Business Insider published the horrific headline: Chocolate is on track to go extinct in 40 years. This juicy click-bait flooded Facebook news feeds, and probably sent many people on post-Christmas chocolate-feeding-frenzies I have to admit, at first glance, that headline sent a chill down my spine and spasms of pre-chocolate-withdrawl pain through my head – even as my conscious mind was forming the words ‘This is bogus!’. I remembered my experiences making chocolate in Ecuador, and what I’ve learned since, and started digging to back up my suspicions. (It didn’t take long, Snopes has already done the work.)
In all stories, either a hero goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town. Sometimes the stranger sends the hero out on a journey. The stranger doesn’t have to be human. It can be a meteor hurtling toward earth, a tornado roaring across an open prairie, or a bear stalking a house. But it can be even more elusive than that. It could be an idea – one that flitters around until it settles on a host, then spreads like a virus.
We are all in the midst of a story right now – set on a global stage. The stranger is much more elusive than we could ever have thought. He flitters around the edge of our day-to-day consciousness. Some people see him clearly. Some deny that he could exist. He infiltrates our daily lives just beneath our consciousness, gradually unthreading the balance of the world we’ve built our lives on.