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  • Writer's picturePru Warren


Saturday, November 13—9:11AM

Reprieve! Reprieve! Curfew shall not ring tonight! The day is dense with clouds, and rain like sleet is sheeting down over waves assaulted by over-enthusiastic wind. Sitting in the library, I had just announced to Mike the Hero, Charming Scottish Rachel, and An Acerbic Dash of Bryan that I was not going out on the Zodiaks.

What? No way! You have to.

Nope. I crossed my arms over my prodigious bosom and planted my feet firmly (metaphorically speaking). Not going. You can’t make me. Your peer pressure is as sleet off a penguin’s brow. Out in that wind and sleet, just for a closer view of the icebergs floating by and mountains shrouded in snow? Not a chance. Not a prayer.

And then, like the voice of a slight Ecuadorian god, Lucho came on the PA to tell us that the weather conditions made Zodiak trips too dangerous. He was very regretful and sorry; I was cheering out loud. Huzzah! My sluggish instincts are camouflaged from all my fellow passengers! (Save those who were listening to me cheer in the library.)

In truth, there were several sighs of relief; not just mine. The weather is grim, to say the least.

And now I have the morning off. Yay! I’m sitting in the glass-enclosed library, surrounded by travelers in their orange parkas who have succumbed to the reality: a warm drink and a swiveling leather chair is a far better perch for peering through binoculars than standing on the monkey deck being beaten into submission by the wind. Tom just spotted a seal in the water; no! It’s a humpback! It was cruising along slowly on the surface; a full-on meander. He was probably humming a little whale song and nosing through ice floes. He was so easy to spot and watch and track and follow that I began to feel like a Peeping Tom, peering into a private life I had no right to.

Still—cool! More, please!

I make a shockingly-unoriginal observation: The blue in these icebergs is astonishing. It’s disco blue. A startlingly un-arctic color. Tropical butterflies can get away with this hue, but not much else can. What is WITH all this ice, white and maybe grey, suddenly manifesting this exotic shade? It’s a 1950s housewife color. Bottle blondes would have swinging skirts in this color blue, and dowagers would call them hussies for their effrontery. The landscape here is monochromatic. White clouds almost on the ground. Black mountains covered in an impasto of snow. Gray ocean, littered untidily with scraps of floating ice and then larger bergs. The occasional bird (all of them stormy petrels) winging by. A humpback whale nosing along—or “logging,” as I’ve been told it’s called. And then this fluorescent blue, like a madman with a can of spray paint got loose in here and howled his madness while picking strange places to shock. Amazing.

My small Ecuadorian god has now announced that we’re in a calmer place; the Zodiak trips are back on. Most of the residents have scurried off to put on their layers and wait eagerly to be summoned to the mudroom…but am I going? I just can’t decide. It really does look flat calm now, and it would be fun to go bobbing around on a Zodiak.

But the togging up and checking out and life-vesting up and doing the boarding dance—my God, it’s so exhausting. Joe Strummer is thumping away in my head. Should I stay or should I go?

I should go. I’m going to skip the hike this afternoon, so I should go now.

Okay. Now I’m ready to go. I’m in the last group to go, so now I have to sit in my cabin with TOO MANY SOCKS ON and wait until I’m called. We started out as “A” group, “B” group, all the way up to D group, but now we seem to be the Adelies, the Black-brows (those are albatrosses, of course), the Chinstraps, and I don’t remember what D is. Guess I’ll find out, since Alex in the mud room has begun loading black-brows first. (She rotates which group starts first so no one is disadvantaged by always waiting an extra half hour while sweltering in polar fleece.)

So now what shall I discuss by which to while away my time?

How about the challenge of accepting help? I was thinking about the mermaid (whose name is actually Alyssa) who wanted to help me down the snowy hill last night. Setting aside the injustice of anyone looking elegant and sleek in ratty old brown neoprene, her instincts were excellent. I was NOT tripping down the hillside with a mountain goat’s grace; I was making my way precariously step by step. The fact that I was giggling as I came probably unnerved her.

When she arrived at my (very low) elevation to offer me a helping hand, my reaction was emotional. I wanted to bat her hand aside. “Not ME,” I wanted to shout. “I’M not one of those people you have to watch out for! I’m not one of the ones who makes you say ‘what are you doing here?’ I have GOT this. I’m doing FINE. I’ve taken BALANCE CLASS for five damned years just for this occasion—can you not see me with my stabilizer muscles on full, my proprioception enhanced, my core muscles averting the calamity you seem to think is imminent? CAN YOU NOT SEE, my little wisp of a mermaid, that you should be helping SOMEONE ELSE??”

And then I thought of it from her perspective. She was just doing her job, unaware that her offer was unmanning me. (Or unwomaning me, if you prefer.) I needed to get past my own self-image and accept the help she offered.

So I did. And she probably didn’t realize how hard that was.

So now I’m thinking about it. If a big, burly guy had made the same offer, would I have resisted? Was it that she was SO sleek? Such a classic definition of how a woman is supposed to look, while I am so obviously a failure at the health-and-beauty thing?

This soul-searching while black-brows and chinstraps are clambering into Zodiaks has been useful. The answer is YES, I would have resisted, even if it had been a male that I would NOT have summarily crushed if I’d gone over and landed on him. Because under all circumstances, it is hard (it is quite hard) to accept help. The “I can do it” that gets ingrained in our mental ruts when we are toddlers is hard to get past. Get out of my way, mermaid—I CAN DO IT.

But at the age of 61, it is perhaps an appropriate time to accept that I’m not suddenly going to be one with the mountain. The need to accept help is only going to grow as the years go by, and I will only benefit myself if I study how to accept that help gracefully now.

It doesn’t come easy, of course, I held on to the mermaid’s outstretched arm, but I didn’t trust that she could hold me up if I started to go over, so all the “help” did was unbalance me… But I was almost to the bottom anyway, and it was good for me to see myself (and be seen by others) as someone who could accept help.

Something to work on, anyway.

Lindblad provides thermal coffee mugs with lids to avoid splashes on windy days. The problem is that even after they’ve been washed, a mug once used for coffee continues to smell like coffee.

(HAH! Group D are the diatoms. That name has NO glory!)

So I’ve been hiding a single mug from the eagle eye of my cabin steward, Luna Marie, who is an invisible and benevolent presence that keeps my life and my stateroom beautifully orderly. But she likes to take used mugs back to the kitchen—so I have to hide my mug in surprising places so I can rinse it out and use it again the next day. The scent of coffee is slowly fading…

Scottish Rachel learned that I preferred the plain old Liptons. “What?” she gasped. “That’s leavings—that’s what they get when they sweep up at the end of the day! You are BETTER than that!” I adore her. She’s so charming—and takes no shit from her equally funny husband, An Acerbic Dash of Bryan. When I pointed out that I put huge quantities of sugar into my tea, plus milk, she just shook her head sadly. I’m apparently letting down the British Empire.

I’m still going to hide my mug, though.

Saturday, November 13—12:54PM

Here are the two very excellent reasons I’m glad I went on the Zodiak tour:

1. It was cool.

2. Now I never have to do it again.

The weather had, indeed, eased. The waves had dropped back to easily-manageable swells and the clouds had lifted their heavy heads a little, so more of the glacier-draped mountains were visible. I thought the rain had stopped…but I was wrong.

So I got all togged up—and really, I think it is the Equip Yourself Or Die process that starts me off on a generalized grumpiness. Especially as my waterproof pants and my stompy boots are downstairs in the mud room, there’s quite a dance necessary to prep for a Zodiak attack. Do you put on the massive coat—inner and outer layer—to go down the stairs, or carry it, since it seems unlikely that you’ll be able to wriggle into the waterproof pants successfully while negotiating that THESE layers are inside the trousers and THESE layers are outside the trousers? Wouldn’t it be easier to carry the massive coats?

What about the COVID mask? Can you get away with wearing the neck gaiter pulled up instead? And why is the neck gaiter so damned tight, anyway? Have you checked the coat pockets? Are there two gloves in there, and are they dry? And do you want the gloves? Or the mittens? Where’s that cap?

Will you put your iPhone in an inner pocket? If you put it in an outer pocket and use the same pocket that now carries a mitten and a cap, are you liable to fling the iPhone across the mud room—or worse, the briny deep—when you go for the mitten?

And what about—Naomi?! Naomi is the name of my life preserver. She is bulky and heavy and far easier to wear than to carry, except that if you add the life vest to the double coats (and do you zip up the coats before you buckle into the life vest, because that will make you overheat, but if you don’t, you’re going to have a hard time zipping up later with the waist strap in place and the through-the-legs strap, too), then you are NEVER getting into the pants and boots.

Fuck. I’m telling you; it’s UNTENABLE. By the time I get the pants on and the boots and Alex in the mud room has helped me into the life vest like Mommy to 63 passengers (the trick is to put the hood up first), I’m ready to strip it all down and take a nap.

Then two able-bodied seamen hand me into the Zodiak and show me where they want me to sit. That was when I realized that the rain hadn’t stopped at all; we were driving into a steady, undeniable drizzle. Great.

Some of my fellow passengers had thought to remove the fake wolf fur around the hood; some hadn’t known to do it. Some had figured out how to tighten their hoods for better protection; some had not. Guess which camp I was in? I had to hold my hood away from my face to see the world around me…on the other hand, my head was buried in a very appealing wind-proof cave, with wolf fur that I could look through that kept most of the drizzle from my face. So that was cool. But as the ride went on, my cap sank lower and lower over my eyes. I’m not sure of the physics of it—of why a knit cap under a hood would slowly work its way forward over my skull until I was nearly blinded by it—but that’s what happened. Then I would reach a big, clumsy, sopping wet mitten into my orange, fur-lined cave and attempt to push the cap back into place.

But you can’t get a cap to settle over the crown of the head by pushing only at the forehead. Alas. So all I was doing was bunching folds of fabric against my hairline, which I can now confirm is an inefficient way to keep the head warm. Eventually I dragged the cap off and held it in my soggy mitten. Tightly. So it wouldn’t blow away.

But now my own hair was hanging in my face, getting wet like the wolf fur. Shit. I took advantage of a moment when Javier was in a religious ecstasy over the presence of snow petrels (each a dead ringer for the dove of the ascension in every single Renaissance painting) to push back my hood and attempted to drag my cap back onto my head while wearing large, wet mittens. This was only partially successful.

To be fair, I also spent a bit of time astonished by how cold I was not. The inner and outer parka kept my core comfortable; my feet were warm and dry, and while my thighs were drenched outside my pants and chilled throughout, it wasn’t more than dimly uncomfortable. If I had shaved my head, as the Patagonian winds had wanted me to do in the first place, I think it would have been a better experience.

And the views were noteworthy. We followed a humpback whale for a while, and then circled two bored leopard seals who had hauled out onto an ice floe for a little nap. And the snow petrels really were very beautiful. When they weren’t hiding in plain sight on small chunks of ice (they run across the ice cubes to get up enough speed to fly; it’s a charmingly awkward way to get airborne), then they were swooping past us as if looking for a virgin to hover over.

Javier saying "I've never seen so many snow petrels on the ice before! Incredible!" (More interesting to me than the birds--and easier to photograph.)

Anders, who manages the hotel part of the ship, put on a Viking helmet and putt-putted forth in his own Zodiak to bring us hot chocolate, which was charming… and yet I worried about all those paper cups. Don’t let one of those fall into the slate-gray waters; we don’t want to be the reason Antarctica is suddenly filled with litter!

Mere moments after Javier left his snow petrels behind and got us back to the ship, we raised anchor and took off again. Outside the protected bay, the wind returned to its gleeful pursuits and the rain is driving against the library windows. It’s really very chilly up here now that lunch is over and everyone has disappeared. I think I’ll disappear myself; this would be a nice opportunity to take a nap. But I don’t care how protected the next stop will be; I’m done with expeditions for today—and maybe for the rest of the time in Antarctica. I feel that I’ve experienced the frozen world, and most of it is still dripping from hooks in my bathroom. I’m making my peace with being an indoor type of girl.

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