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  • Pru Warren

Ice


Tuesday, November 16—10:04 AM


Eduardo was born in Argentina and educated in a British school, so he has a great accent. Among his words is “glass-yer” instead of glacier. In the British manner, he usually drops terminal “rs” in a word. “It would have been a different mattah.” But he also has a slight lisp, so he says “The Woss ice shelf.” He has a wonderful cadence of speech and he adores his topic—the various men who were compelled to reach the South Pole, most of whom at one point or another had to kill their own dogs, which I don’t like. He’s talking about Roald Amundsen (first to the South Pole) who made his journey entirely on skis and with dog sleds. Roald made every man on the expedition take care of a certain number of dogs—and then as he got close to the South Pole, he lightened his load by killing most of his dogs.


What about the guys whose dogs got killed? How’s your morale now, boys? Is this the Game of Thrones plan for the unsullied? Give them a puppy and a year later make them kill their own dogs? Jesus. This is so fucking MALE.


I’ve digressed. My point was—Eduardo has a great voice. But in fact, that great speaking voice is covering for the fact that he’s not that great a storyteller. He gets details mixed up and is prone to statements like “Oh—I forgot to mention that…” and “Oh, no—that wasn’t Scott, it was Amundsen.” So I’m really glad I decided to listen to his lecture in my cabin, where I can roll my eyes without bringing anyone else down.


Except you, apparently!


We’re on a long haul to our next destination (I don’t remember the name; would it matter if I did?) and the morning and most of the afternoon is spent at sea. I’m good with that. My sunburn has made my face look like a raccoon, and I’m very content to stay inside. My lips hurt; have I ever suffered sunburned lips before??


Eduardo is now explaining the agonizing deaths of the Scott party. “It’s quite poig-nant,” he says. Poig-nant indeed. Off they went to die; how heroic. (I’m rolling my eyes. Buncha dog-killers.)


Several times I’ve sat with people at dinner (or breakfast) and asked if they, too, are exhausted by all the social chat. Everyone agrees that it’s enervating; that we’re all worn to the bone. And yet on we go, chatting. Chatting. Chatting. Skating around differences of opinion. Trying to find common ground. Interviewing each other in the hopes that we won’t have to talk. Hoping for a reason to giggle—longing for an excuse to get up and leave the table. I’m hiding in my cabin today, and am grateful for the chance.


We’re crossing a wide hunka water. Most of the time, it’s grey-blue water with waves and whitecaps and the occasional floating “growler” (small icebergs). The wind is vigorous and capricious. I can see the water ruffled by gusts, which seem to come straight down from above and then ripple out in a ring, like a hand pushing from underneath to disturb the surface of the water. It’s quite mesmerizing.


We’ve traveled through pack ice, too—but it’s not a solid sheet. These are mosaics of ice fragments. Some are quite blue; I know now that those have come from glaciers. (Or glass-yers.) Some are tan and look dirty; I now know those are formed from sea ice. The brown stuff (which makes the ice look like oatmeal) is diatoms—the cellular life that krill feed on. Then everything else all the way up to whales feeds on the krill, so the stained ice is actually the source of a huge chain of life.


Lastly there is what is called “dirty ice.” Aptly named. This, too, is glacier ice—but it’s from where the glacier butted up against a mountain and has picked up the soil and hunks of stone that result when a glacier decides to play through. (And every now and then, there will be a clump of ice that is black as sin. It looks like a magically-floating rock, malevolent in all this whiteness.)


Dirty ice ought not be allowed, since it’s so easy to mistake it from something more interesting lying on the ice for a nap. I keep the binoculars close at hand to check each lump of dirty ice—and every now and then the dirty ice rolls over and stretches feathery flippers and resolves into a seal. Then I squeal with triumph. I see you, indifferent and lazy form of life that can survive in this inhospitable place! Do you have any sunblock I could borrow? No? Well, there you go, disappearing in our wake. I have touched your life not at all, and you were of no use to me. Adieu, my friend.


Waves of energy are rolling out under all this pieced-together ice. The waves go parallel to our ship, so they are rolling away from my window, rippling across the flexible ice. At the edge of the pack ice, what look like plain old waves (when there is nothing for them to dash against) are crashing brutally against the shelf. Even in our rapid passage, I can watch an edge piece of the mosaic be entirely reshaped by the force of the water, which pushes the entire chunk underwater and carves its leading edge anew. No wonder the seal was lying quite far “inland” on the ice; the fringes are obviously places of chaos and upheaval.


There are massive tabular ice structures floating on the distant horizon; as if an entire industrial park (no windows—just square edges and pale sides) had suddenly broken off from the mainland and decided to go for a little toot. They’re vast; they look state-sized (as in Rhode Island), but of course there’s no sense of scale out here. I can’t really tell how big anything is. I only know that I can see them far, far away through the mists where they’re hanging at the bitter edge, past which there is only the oblivion of the waterfall at the end of the earth. To be able to see something that far away…dang. It must be big.


We’re apparently on the hunt for emperor penguins. I approve that quest, in a dispassionate sort of way. First, that’s a big damned bird, and it would be something to see one in person. Second, their flare of red and orange at the throat would be a relief to the eye in this monochromatic landscape. Third—you know. Penguins.


On the other hand, sunburned lips. The Zodiak Tog-Up. The earnestness and fanaticism of naturalists. The requirement of chat-chat-chat should I venture bravely forth from my cabin. Would a photo of an emperor penguin satisfy me instead? I can’t help but think that it might… Perhaps I shall have more energy and interest once we’re at our final destination.


When Lucho can’t offer us anything else, he gets on the PA and advises us to “enjoy this beautiful navigation.”


I know that what he means is—look out your damned window. Throw on the multi-layered parka, restrain what little hair you have left, and go on deck where a naturalist will tell you what the black blobs you’re seeing actually are. Be in the now, man.


But I’m amused by the idea of enjoying beautiful navigation. I envision a dark, circular room like an old-fashioned operating arena. In the spot-lit center, a man at a podium with a protractor bends over a chart, doing calculations and then drawing a definitive line, whereupon the watching multitudes offer a reverent golf clap (so as to not disturb the concentration) and whisper to each other, “Beautiful. Beautiful navigation. Freddy is such a master.” “Yes, it’s a pleasure to watch him work.” “Moving. A triumph of the human spirit.” “Exactly. And no dogs were killed." "Yes, I like that part, too."


Here's a prettier photo: A sheathbill hitches a ride atop a lifeboat. Their beaks are really quite ugly; clumped up like mis-aligned Lego. This is definitely a beauty shot.



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