Thinking about Antarctica on Christmas Day in the morning

floating-icebergI thought, even before we went south, when I was still just imagining the beauty to come, that this journey was going to help me move from one part of my life into another.  Today, home for a few days now, I realize that this is how it works.  I would learn things each day of this trip, things that I knew would be important to me and to/in my life.  Those lessons would get stored away as part of my Antarctic memories until I’m confronted with a challenge or situation (doesn’t have to be a tough one) and then … just like a flash of energy … “there” and “here” would connect and I’d feel a little bit clearer about where I want to go.  I was a little worried – I’ll admit – that I wouldn’t be able to make the connections, but it took only until Christmas Day in the morning (no song inferred) for this to play itself out.  I’ll begin here with two excerpts from my journal entries (PART ONE), just before and just after reaching Antarctica.  Then (PART TWO)  I’ll tell you about this morning.   Followed by(PART THREE) an afterthought.  Then I’m going to end with a little “feature” I’d like to add; profiles of some fabulous women I’ve met through this blog.  Okay?  


December 12/08: In The Drake Passage.    This morning we had our briefing on landings in zodiacs with Antarctic protocols.  Every bit of insecurity in me came bubbling right up as they told us talescopy-of-loading-the-zodiac of the group who were stranded on shore for 10 hours … not reassuring.  It was one thing for me to set off on this adventure, but I’d convinced David that he wanted to do it too.   I’m pretty sure that David – at this point – was focusing on just not hyperventilating at this point … and perhaps wondering why he was doing this at all!  We’d been fitted for boots and it was time for a briefing on penguins.  A lecture on the geology of Antarctica and some quiet time filled the remainder of the day.  I took an hour to meditate, but since I had to hang on to the side of the bed to keep from being buffeted about, even with the quiet tones from my MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) course giving me gentle direction I ended up having a bit of a giggling-fit instead.  So instead I just relaxed into the rocking and thought about the many people I’d met today who have in one way or another retired from earlier phases of their lives and are doing just what they want to do; one couple our age had been travelling around for the past 5 1/2 years in their van, sleeping in the car, having no schedules, and … when they drove into Ushuaia and found out there were boats goinig to Antarctica they just up and decided to get on one of them (at a much-reduced rate, of course, since they only booked a day before we sailed).  I’d like to remember that we’re only limited by the extent of our creative spirits. This afternoon I headed out with a different attitude, ready to just revel in stepping foot on Antarctica.  The sun was shining, the air was warm (above zero), and as I walked through a gentoo penguin rookery (that’s David in the picture on his first Antarctic walk) and copy-of-first-steps-on-antarcticaclimbed a hill I was busy stripping off layers of clothing.  We spent an hour watching the penguins; some were sitting on their nests, some stealing stones to reinforce their nests, some feedling wee chicks with food copy-of-first-walk-2brought back from an excursion.  Icebergs floated by, sparkling in the water.  Skuas flew in, hoping to catch a penguin leaving an egg unprotected; birds have to eat too I guess.  It was an amazing afternoon.  By choice?  In part, for sure.  So now the challenge is to remember that this is something I can control.    Love that!

Dec 13/08: Arriving!  The first thing that struck me when I awoke this morning was that I wasn’t being buffeted about.  I opened the curtains and there it was – Antarctica at last.  Tall hills, glacier covered.  Brash ice antarctica-at-last2surrounding us.  At the base of icebergs floating by the most incredible tourquoise blue shimmered.  When the call came to gear up for going ashore I began dressing.  Silk long-johns first.  Then cotton tights, liner socks, heavy socks, thermal socks, corduroy pants, waterproof pants.  That’s the bottom.  Silk undershirt, exercise shirt, thin fleece top, very thick fleece top, the MVPolar Star jacket I’d been given (waterproof).  I’d put on the liner gloves and heavy mittens only after I’d put on my boots and lifejacket.  As I walked down to the wet room to get my boots on I flashed back to being a little girl – maybe 5 years old – bundled up a snow suit.  I didn’t really like it much.  Bending over to get my boots on was a lark; I could barely bend at all with all the clothes I was wearing.  Images of stuffed sausages drifted through my mind.  No, I really didn’t like this much.  Climbing down the ladder/stairs, extending my right hand in the “sailor’s grip”, stepping onto the pontoon, down onto the Zodiac, sitting down on the pontoon and shifting myself along so that others could join me.  We wouldn’t be going onshore this morning; just trying out a Zodiac cruise.  copy-of-zodiac-heading-to-land1Sitting there all I could think about was how uncomfortable I was (you can likely see that in this photo) and it was sort of hard to breathe.  Just when I closed my eyes to focus on taking a deep breath it came to me; my struggle today is with just accepting how I feel and not letting it distract me from the beauty around me.  This is something that could serve me well if I can do it.  We’re back onboard now, I am trying to relive that experience with eyes closed, and – as I sit here writing and pulling on my shirt I have to wonder; Why is it so much easier to focus on discomfort than to focus on good things?

PART TWO:  What happened on Christmas Day in the morning. 

I started the day (Dec 25th) by writing my first post-Antarctic posting, which I needed to do because although I’d prepared one already I had managed – in the process of adding some coming-home comments- to delete it by accident.  ANTS (A Note To Self) – pay more attention to post-travel “lag”. Writing it, as always, took me into my thoughts and gave me an opportunity to explore just what my mind was bringing me.  A joy. When I finished writing my first draft I thought I’d celebrate by relaxing and watching a movie on TV … maybe even getting David to take the time away from  his work and relax for a while too.  Of course since it was just after 8 a.m. the only movies I could find were either for children, for those who want to watch without being moved into any sort of thinking at all (like that ping-pong movie I saw with Motti a couple of years ago … which was great fun but with it’s major point being to distract us for an hour or so),  and – after reading the list and checking it twice  – the one that seemed to have the best potential for providing me with an opportunity to learn in the process I chose (aka – prodding my thinking with artistry) one called A Christmas Visitor (2002)  that had actors in it that I liked (Meredith Baxter, William Devane, Dean McDermott) and had a blurb describing it as: “A mysterious stranger helps return joy to a family suffering grief over son’s loss in the Gulf War.”  The moment I turned to it, the dialogue began with a man and a woman talking. 

moonlight-on-the-water1 He says: It’s like light and dark.  The moonlight touches down on the fields, becomes part of its beauty.  Its darkness is also its light.  What do you see when you look out there?  Do you see the darkness, or the moonlight, or both?  Can you separate the two?  Should you?


She says: Well, it’s like you said it’s all one.


PART THREE:  An afterthought.  This is how it works.  I’ve got some nugget of wisdom tucked away as a memory of something gained along the way and then there’s a real-life articulation of what I experienced in words that help me crystallize what I want to remember.   This is one of the lessons that I’d like to turn into a mantra for meditation so that I can incorporate it in my being in the years to come.  What do I see when I look out there?  Do I see the darkness, or the moonlight, or both?  Can I separate the two?  Should I?  In the end, it’s all one.  In the end, it’s all one. By the way, not only did David join me in relaxing but he arrived upstairs carrying his laptop which he’d tuned to Sirius 03 satellite radio and the Hanukah Show.  We sat together with an image of Christmas on the TV screen to our left and the laptop sending us Hanukah music on the right.  In the end, it’s all one.  Does life get much better than this?

FABULOUS WOMEN I’VE NOT REALLY MET:  CAROL FRANKS Someone who’s always been supportive to me is my friend Eleanor.  She told her friend Jane about the blog; we’ve been lucky enough to have some of Jane’s shared wisdom posted here as comments.  I haven’t actually met her yet though.  Jane led me to Carol through an e-mail that instructed me to “Read to the last sentence … it might be an interesting volunteer opportunity.  I knew Carol when she was with CUSO in Thailand and then when she ran a very up-scale inn in Kingston (that Josh Ralston Saul always stayed at).  I might have directed her teacher training (in which case she’ll be absolutely state-of-the-art for 1974.”   A CUSO volunteer.  In Thailand.  Running an Inn.  Sounds like an interesting woman.  Here’s what Jane had forwarded; do read to the end!  I’m glad that I did.

Greetings! Since retiring from inn keeping in Kingston , I have been teaching English as a volunteer in Nicaragua , one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere  (located between Costa Rica and Honduras).  san-juan-del-surMy students are hospitality workers – waiters, cleaners, maids, drivers, and gardeners – who faithfully attend class after working ten and 12 hour days. While the students and I have lots of enthusiasm, resources are scarce.  Our classroom is a hotel lobby and my only teaching aid is a whiteboard. Unfortunately neither the town’s library, San Juan del Sur Biblioteca Móvil, nor the students themselves, can afford to buy san-juan-2English language textbooks, dictionaries or readers.  Before leaving San Juan del Sur this spring, I promised my students that I would somehow return with 80 textbooks.  In my opinion the ESL textbook most suited to adult learners is a series called: Side by Side.  The publisher Pearson Longman has already generously donated 20 textbooks, as well as some dictionaries and readers. Only 60 textbooks to go! Would you please consider donating the price of one textbook – $27.00 You can contribute online on the website of the San Juan del Sur library (note from Sylvia:  it’s the first lending library in Nicaragua, providing books, information, technology, and community center services to the people of San Juan del Sur and its surrounding communities)  that sponsors my classes at by clicking on the “Just Give” button and designate your contribution for textbooks. Or send a cheque made out to “Textbooks for Nicaragua ” care of the Fowler’s Corners and District Lions Club at P.O. Box 8613 , Peterborough , Ontario , K9J 6X3 .  Donations will be used to purchase the textbooks and cover shipping costs. (No tax receipts will be issued. )

One further favour… Please forward my email to two or three of your friends. San Juan del Sur is a wonderful retreat from a Canadian winter.  I’m there from November through May, should you decide to visit Nicaragua as a vacationer or a volunteer.

Thank you for your consideration,

Carol Franks (705) 657-1480

I sent Carol my CV right away and explained that I needed to do about two weeks as a practicum in an ESL classroom and wondered if she would consider having me do this – as a volunteer – in her school in Nicaragua.  She was very positive and enthusiastic in her response; this is definitely something I’d like to think about doing in March  … if I can.  Right now she’s working with another Canadian volunteer on a strategy to improve the level of English in the elementary and secondary schools in Nicaragua.  Gee — maybe I have something to offer in that effort.  One more thing to explore! 

I’m forwarding this to you, two or three of my friends, as Carol requested.


2 responses to “Thinking about Antarctica on Christmas Day in the morning

  1. I’ve been away from the blog for about 6 weeks for a variety of reasons and missed it terribly. Tonight I settled down to read (for about 3.5 hours) and enjoyed every minute and every word. I’m looking forward to more Antartica stories – I laughed and laughed re: the first night on the ship. As I unwind myself from the computer chair I’d like to thank you, Sylvia and the bloggers for helping me escape my angst and just enjoy!

  2. Retiring is definitely the easiest part of growing older. The sobering realities that come with this stage in life is that many of the people we love so much – like your fabulous mother Bea – are growing older too. As you love her and care for her know that you, too, are surrounded by the love and care of good friends. She is a remarkable woman; I have so many happy memories that include her … sometimes singing, sometimes drumming, often dancing, usually laughing. And you – my friend – are her remarkable daughter who, through the way you and your David have cared for her over the past years, has taught us all a lot about how to be a mensch – a woman of integrity and honour.

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