Pull Over. Let's Ask for Directions.
Monday, November 15—9:19 PM
It is a feature of my life that I tend to know where I am. That’s my personality. Before I go someplace new, I usually look on Google Maps, just so I can kind of get a feel for direction and crossroads, etc. When I’m in a group, people tend to follow me. I know where I’m going.
But here in Antarctica, I am hopelessly unmoored. There’s a very useful “sea map” feature on the television in my cabin. I can turn it on at any time and a cheerful red ship’s wheel will show me where the ship is and what direction we’re heading in. It’s a “Google mapper’s” dream.
It does me no good. There is nothing on the map because there’s nothing out there. No landmarks. No “turn left at the grocery store.” No “you could take this highway but if traffic looks bad, here’s a surface road to try.” I am, for the first time in my adult life, utterly lost. The ship could be circling the same mountain range for five days straight and I wouldn’t know it. Every place is tall mountains with their feet in the water, and huge bloops of whipped cream snow covering everything in sight. All the icebergs are constantly on the move, so they’re hopeless as landmarks.
I go to the “Chart Room” regularly; it’s just down a stretch of open deck from my cabin and features large mugs of hot tea…but there are also actual charts. Someone (some naturalist) is using a red felt-tip pen on a laminated map to show our route, with little post-it notes to indicate where we went kayaking or Zodiaking (not a verb but shut up) or waddling up a hillside with the penguins, and it DOESN’T HELP ME to look at that. Because even with the post-its, it makes very little sense. We’re going from one anonymous harbor to another, and the route is about to run off that map anyway, and then what happens? There is not one identifiable landmark in sight. Some of the glaciers and waterways have names, but what good does that do me? They all look identical, anyway.
And I think this is good for me. Along the lines of learning how to ask for help, it’s probably an evolutionary moment for me to be lost and trust someone else to get me…home? To the next Zodiak tour? Maybe to a CVS where I could buy some damned sunscreen??
I shouldn’t have hung out so long with the naturalists on the bow this afternoon. My forehead is safe; I was wearing my ill-fitting knit cap. But my schnozz looks like the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz, and I’m compulsively using my beloved Burt’s Bees Pink Grapefruit chapstick (yes, even more compulsively than normal!) in a vain attempt to remove the sting from my lips and make things feel normal. All this will fade by tomorrow—but for tonight I’m sizzling a little. What a bold adventurer I am!