Hope you didn’t mind that I went off the beaten track, as they say, with my comments about Sarah Palin yesterday. I think that far too much of what she says goes unchallenged so thought I’d add my 2-cents worth. Now …. back to the important stuff of getting successfully into retirement.
My daughter Nili is expecting her third child any day now. So that I’m free to go to Ottawa (where she lives) and help her out after the baby’s born I’ve been scheduling as many “check-ups” as I can this week. Yesterday, for example, I had a mammogram, a bone density test, and an interview/orientation about Disaster Response with the Red Cross. Tomorrow I have a re-do of a root canal. Funny that I need more body work than my car (but then again, my car is much younger). So here’s the thing. Before the bone density test they measured me and ….. oh my God … even though I was definitely trying to pull myself up to full height I still measured in as 5’5″ when I’ve always been 5’6″. An inch gone? Where did it go? How could I be shrinking already? I exercise every day, I walk (lots of weight-bearing activity), I take good care of myself. And still. An inch. Gone! I’ve been thinking a lot about how not to feel like my life is shrinking now that I don’t have a career/job any more, but I hadn’t at all thought about my actual body shrinking. Yikes! Growing shorter? Could I be replicating Shrinking Violet (aka Atom Girl), the cartoon superhero from the planet of Imsk? I can’t even write much about this because it has be reeling. Got to think this one through a bit. Shrinking. Oh my!!!! Are you? With 5’6″ of me life was challenging enough, how do I manage this while shrinking?
Meanwhile – while I cogitate on what it means to be shrinking – here’s an excerpt of our final day on the Antarctic Peninsula (my way of saying that although my body might be shrinking my life is holding it’s own).
ANTARCTICA JOURNAL EXCERPTS: December 16/08 – Deception Island
We woke at 5 a.m. this morning and thought we’d take advantage of the early hour to sit quietly in the Observation Lounge (home away from cabin) and have a coffee while we watched the scenery float by. Within minutes we were greeted by a passing whale. Not a bad way to start the day. We sat and observed and dreamed and had a second cup of coffee (more about that later).
Today we have our final landing, and it will be on a volcanic island that last “blew” in 1970. It’s an island of the South Shetland Island chain, formed by a volcanic crater that collapsed allowing seawater to rush into the caldera and creating one the the largest natural harbours (about 10 miles across) in the world. Getting dressed for this final landing was different than usual; my first layer was a bathing suit as we were evidently going to have a chance to go swimming. In the Antarctic. Imagine. Over the bathing suit went longjohns, fleece pants, thick socks, an exercise shirt, and a heavy polar fleece. It was raining a bit and so undoubtedly this would be a cold walk. Oh yes – and my earmuffs and hat. At 8:30 in the morning we’d sailed through the narrows into Whaler’s Bay. We landed on a black beach – all volcanic ash and rock. We walked for about 45 minutes to the top of a volcanic hill to an area called Neptune’s Bellows (that low area in the background between two hills), named for the sound of the wind as it whistles in from the sea. For the first time one of my great fears came to pass — if you’ll excuse the expression, I needed to pee. I remembered back to our first briefing when a woman had asked if there would be port-a-potties on the continent and we all thought “how foolish of her to ask”. And yet, maybe because of the wind, may the cold pricks of the sheet ice that was now falling, maybe that second cup of coffee I’d had early in the day, maybe it’s my age. I don’t know why, but I knew that I’d not make it back to the ship and certainly couldn’t dare strip down and head into icy cold water with a full bladder. For the first time we were somewhere with actual big rocks that I could hide behind. David offered to “stand watch” and I waited, in the lee of a rock, for the last of my fellow passengers to come down from The Bellows so that I could do what needed to be done.
There were almost 100 passengers on the ship and so, not surprising, there were some that I found I wanted to spend less time with than others. One of these was a fellow who I usually referred to as “gun guy” because of his very right-wing perspective on things and his spoken position on gun control. Wouldn’t you know it, gun guy was the last person to come sauntering down the hill as I stood there, shifting from one foot to the other in anticipation. Did he just walk right on by? Of course not! There was a little bit of moss growing on the rock – almost the only vegetation we saw – and he decided he needed to take a photo. Several photos. At last – with me holding back more than my desire to tell him to “move along” – I was able to do what needed doing and, arm in arm with David, we walked back to our landing site. (Those spots you can see in the photo, those are raindrops – icedrops actually.)
While we’d been hiking, some of the expeditation staff had been digging into the black ash beach, and hot water – warmed by the active volcano we were walking on if you recall – had bubbled up to form a little pool. Ergo the bathing suit under all of my other clothing. I’d dressed to go for a swim, but was so cold from the walk that I was giving it second thoughts. This all quickly became very symbolic for me. If I did it, I’d face being unbelievably cold. If I didn’t do it, I’d face being unbelievably depressed that – for the first time – I’d shied away from something that I wanted to do because I was …. too old. All of the identity issues I’d been facing with retirement came to the fore. To swim or not to swim? So I started to think about another approach to this. Maybe I could skip the dip into the frigid Antarctic waters and just do the dip in the hot, somewhat sulphuric water, even though the crew had told us that the “rules” were cold water first? Maybe nobody would do it and I’d be off the hook. No such luck. The first person to head for the icewater was a white-haired elderly woman who had been crawling on her hands and knees all around the ship to make sure she didn’t hurt herself. Several others followed – still only women. I watched and waited. Then, in a burst of energy unencumbered by rational thought I made my decision and started stripping off layer after layer of clothing. Soon I was standing on a volcanic beach on an Antarctic caldera in bare feet and bathing suit. I knew there must be something to learn from this … but at that moment in time I thought little about lessons and lots about survival! I reached for David-from-Ireland’s hand (another passenger) and together, screaming like banshees, we ran into the water up to our knees. We splashed about, making sure to wet our hair which was one of necessary precursors to gaining entry to the just-dug hot pool. From the bay into the hot water, steam rising into the cold air. The real challenge, I realized as I tried to submerge myself in 8 inches of hot water, was what would follow; getting out of the water, back into my clothes, and onto the zodiac for the ride back to the Polar Star. Quite amazingly it was much less cold than I’d anticipated … maybe I was just so numb I couldn’t feel anything at all. In the end, I’m glad that I did this. But then again, I’m glad that I tried bungee-jumping a number of years ago.
Once back on board it was straight into a hot shower to see whether or not warmth would bring feeling back to my extremities. There were threats of potential storms in the Drake Passage as we made our way back to Tierra Del Fuego, so to complete dressing I added a fresh sea-sickness patch, then took a gravol and put my BioBands back on; all before heading up to the Observation Lounge for happy hour for a drink that I’d surely earned.
Soon there was an announcement that there would be visits to the engine room for those who were interested in what actually made this ship move. Of course we headed down, and down, and down, into a maze of machinery that truly boggled the mind.
After dinner we all gathered for our daily briefing (update: we should only have GaleForce 8 winds in our crossing) and to watch the final episodes of Life In The Freezer. I asked the staff if they’d be giving us a list of everyone’s e-mail addresses and they told me it was up to the passengers to organize that if we wanted, so I promptly started a chart (remember, I love a good chart) for people to fill in and announced that it would be on the table as you entered the Lounge for the next day if anyone wanted to add their name (most did in the end). As we watched the video the boat began rocking again, this time not only fore and aft but also side to side. Heaving actually.
Only two more days before our return to Ushuaia. Two more days to meditate on the beauty we’d experienced, hear more about people’s adventures, think about what was ahead of me. Two more days.