January 24, 2015

Ice Caves of the Erebus Glacier Tongue

There are ice caves that grow and disappear within the edges of the tongue that ruptures out from the Erebus Glacier. Every year they are different, and the mountaineers who work with the Field Safety department discover them and decide whether they are safe for entry.

We went out on snowmobiles, cold air and two-stroke motor exhaust trailing behind us, stopped in sudden silence at the base, stark and soft like bones in the desert. Ethereal rooms with smooth sculptors’ ridges on the walls, fuzzy stalactites of ice dripping from the ceiling. Turquoise to violet ice, moving air in the farthest secret recesses like the glacier breathing on your skin.

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Ice Caves deep2

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Ice Caves jump

January 15, 2015

Sea Ice, Cape Evans and Scott’s Hut Photo Extravaganza!

In November my department had the opportunity to take McMurdo’s sea ice training course, teaching vehicle operators how to profile cracks in the sea ice to determine if the surface could withstand the weight of the vehicle and whether it was safe to cross. We’d identify a crack, shovel a trench across it, drill into the ice until sea water gushed out, and drop a special measuring tape into the water.

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Sea Ice Drilling copy

There were Weddell seals along the road, not paying us any mind, dappled skin stretched across fatty heft, sighing and breathing across the frost—the holes they came out of a few feet away, littered with expelled bits of ice and blood.

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Sea Ice Erebus

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Our teacher was awesome, taking us to see things nearby, profiling cracks along the way. We entered an ice amphitheater, a brilliant curved elbow hollow, pocked shining walls and gargantuan feathered veins running up 80 feet. We placed our hands on icebergs’ solemn, glistening faces, being present with bodies much older than ourselves.

Sea Ice Big Blue Berg

Scott’s Hut on Cape Evans was a few miles away, a hundred year old building where the explorers spent three winters. Penguin carcasses, primitive ice cleat boots made of fur and canvas, crates of tea and potted meats. A darkroom full of tiny bottles, old spooky chemicals. A dog’s skeleton, still chained to the stable. It smelled like dust and hay and seal blubber, and written on one of the bunks in very light pencil, “Losses to date: Haywood, Mack, Smyth, Shak (?)” (I read later that Shackleton was missing at that point, his fate still uncertain).

It was an amazing day!

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January 7, 2015

Resolve.

This happens to me every season on ice: it’s 6 weeks until the end of summer and I haven’t put up a blog post in approximately eight million years.

One of the reasons I wanted to come back to Antarctica is because it helps me to notice things, to write. And I have been writing, but mostly to myself; journaling and jotting notes on surfaces, my hands, scraps of paper, napkins.

It’s 2015, did you notice? Do you make resolutions? Here are two of my many: 1) I am going to start paying more attention to gratitude, which I will mostly keep to myself but it might leak in here every now and then and 2) I am going to try and post once a week here, even if it’s just a photo.

So let’s start small and then I will back up and catch you up with Antarctic 2014-2015 goings-on, how does that sound?

~

Here is something I am grateful for: for the sound of fluttering ocean current under porous, melting ice. For wind ripples on open water and the blue of the ice under that water, so crisp in the sun. For the unlikely steam rising off of lava soil, and for one little penguin, very far away amongst the seals.

 

Hut Point Melt

Did you make resolutions? Care to share them?

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November 29, 2014

Heavy lavender clouds over the ice…

A few Sundays ago we walked to Hut point, just outside of town.

Royals and Clouds

 

Hut Point Footsteps

It was windy, smoky streaks of snow filtering through the lava rocks, old compacted footsteps growing from the path on little pedestals.

Hut Point 2

 

Hut Point 1

 

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Adult seals with their pups were loafing on the ice, not worried about the wind.

November 21, 2014

McMurdo 101

The US has three stations in Antarctica, and this year I’m working in McMurdo, the largest station (and formerly just a transitional jumping point to me when I was trying to get on a flight to the South Pole). It’s on Ross Island, and we fly here on a C-17, Airbus, or LC-130 from New Zealand.

hello from McMurdo

It’s a big station, around a thousand people in the height of summer (ie, now). There are dorms, admin buildings, a firehouse, power plant, water distillation plant, wharf, a store, three bars, three gyms, warehouses, and a ton of science (glaciology, marine biology, aeronomy and astrophysics, earth science, ocean and atmospheric studies). Three runways and a helicopter pad. And like a big old city there is above-ground water, sewer, telephone, and power lines.

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It was really cold.

It was pretty cold for a bit at the beginning of the season, though nothing compared to Pole. Lots of 50-knot winds, really poor visibility, and -30F.

It’s not too cold out right now, maybe 20F above zero. It smells like melt outside and there is milky mud water streaming down the hills toward the bay.

The photo below shows MacTown at 3am–the shadow across town, cast by Observation Hill, is all of the brief  “sunset” we get these days.

MacTown from Ob Hill

Building 211, McMurdo, Antarctica

This is my pretty little house…

...and my pretty little room...

…and my pretty little room…

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A construction zone or a giant Lego set.

In town, it’s kind of like living in a construction zone, loaders and pickup trucks driving everywhere, gravel roads, exposed fuel pipes and spools of cable. But the magical thing about being here is all the stuff outside of town–hikes and preserved huts from the old Antarctic explorers and ice caves.

Stay tuned for some of the icier stuff, coming soon!

November 15, 2014

Ice.

Somehow leaving makes you love it more.

Late fall in the midwest: cold wind on tired oak trees. Sunday night dinner, soup and wine and chocolate.

The last year has been a flurry of daily airports, new jobs, big decisions. Weddings. Funerals. Moving out again, pulling up the tiny roots. Finding myself back in the MSP airport, getting ready for 30+ hours of travel, deploying to Antarctica via New Zealand.

It’s good to be back.

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Big Reds Walk to Iceberg

May 14, 2014

Field Notes from the Single Lady Pilgrimage Trip: Part 4

I believe in slow-burn love. I believe in listening to that stewing, deep, under-the-surface yearning that you can’t always name. I believe that gravity can pull your ear down low to the ground, force you to listen to her heartbeat, telling secrets, speaking poetry. I believe in magical thinking, in asking for what you want, in looking the direction that you want to go.

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Do I have to know what I want in order to get it?

Something I like about traveling alone is that you get very in tune with what you want. The trouble with this is that if you don’t know what you want, things can get a little tricky.

I have recently been believing very deeply in the power of asking for what you want. You won’t always get it, but if you don’t know what you’re asking for, what your heart must be open to, I’m afraid you might miss it.

As I drove the last legs of my Iceland trip, I started to think more concretely about what exactly I needed from this voyage. I was in a mindset that I regretted letting still mark me when I no longer wanted it to. I started to imagine the crusty emotional shell that I had come to let define the edges of myself cracking apart and falling off in bits on the road I left behind me. It was meditative, and I listened to the quiet/loud road noise, driving back towards what I really hoped was my normal, grounded self.

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I spent an evening with three men (from France, Italy, and Colorado) who were all diligently writing by hand in their travel journals, which I secretly loved. I wrote in mine, quietly asking questions, wondering, feeling joyful and tired and just a tiny bit ready to think about going home.

~

Ice Queen.

I came around a bend in the highway one morning to what I thought might have been a wave crashing up against a bridge, and when it didn’t come down, my heart caught in my throat. It was ice. It was breathtaking. Even though I was expecting it, it gave me butterflies. Have you ever fallen in love with part of the earth?

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Jökulsárlón is a lagoon at the foot of a glacier, a tidal pool filled with icebergs that break off and crash into the water, that breathe and creak and heave with the ocean rising and falling underneath them, a live animal corralled by a bridge. Seals slipped in and out amongst the bergs. Everything was blue, luminous and glowing and milky despite the haze and the rain. Icebergs were streaked with centuries-old ash from volcanic eruptions, the water’s surface calm in the rain’s pause. I watched other tourists taking photos, popping bright umbrellas, putting their fingers in the clear glacial water.

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I bought a spot on a zodiac boat and motored out to the edge of the glacier, the air growing sharply cooler the closer we got. We were zipped up in waterproof coveralls, kneeling on the floor of the boat which was rubber like the sole of a shoe. Every now and then there was a sudden underboat jerk and a drag of ice along our kneecaps. The sun had come out and water was dripping off the ledges of vaulted ice, the spray salty, everything glittering and moving imperceptibly.

Jökulsárlón coveralls

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March 27, 2014

Frozen Landscapes

Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Ice sure does draw me in.

I’m having trouble with the last installment(s) of the Field Notes posts; I’m stuck on the questions, yet again, of how much I want to share, how much I should share, who I’m writing for, and what people want to read. I normally prefer to write things consecutively but that tends to make writer’s block exponentially more insurmountable. I’d like to get better at posting things when the bloggy spirit moves me, so for now, I’m just going to set Iceland aside until the Single Lady Pilgrimage Trip is ready to come out and play again.

~

The last few months in the Midwest have gifted us with one of the longest, most disgustingly cold winters I can remember. And with that long-lasting, seemingly never ending, brutal-stupid-cold came a lot of grey days and lonely nights and soul searching and journaling and trying to figure out the question that we can never answer fully: What Comes Next? (More on that later.) But there were some pretty great parts, too.

With that terrible cold came some terribly beautiful ice. Because of the weather, Lake Superior froze solid enough to allow visitors to walk to the Apostle Islands Ice Caves for the first time in a few years, and they were stunning. Red sandstone caves, striated arches, dangling exposed tree roots; they were all covered in ice whipped up by the bitter lake wind.

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Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Apostle Islands Ice Caves Adventure Buddy

Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Apostle Islands Ice Caves

February 9, 2014

Field Notes: Part 3

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IMG_3952Smoked arctic char (trout) served with geysir bread, which is a graham rye that is buried under the ground as dough and comes out 24 hours later cooked by geothermal magic.

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Myvatn thermal baths + snow. Take off your clothes and hop in!

~

Isn’t it strange how time passes?

It’s been four months since I came home. I have so much to tell you, but let me start where I left off: Northern Iceland, September. Snow was falling heavily in a premature winter storm, and the sky was low and grey as I pulled up to a farmhouse, hoping for a place to stay.

A room of one’s own.

The house matron Ásta showed me to a single room with a gable window flanked by warm birchwood walls, lace curtains, no art, a small bed with white sheets, and a writing desk; unexpectedly perfect. I sat and wrote for two days as the storm groaned outside the window, breaking my scattered focus with great, loud gusts. Snowflakes stuck to the glass, drawn to the heat, melting on the way down. The roads were icy in one direction and closed in another, and the news was reporting people stuck in the mountains, farmers losing entire herds to the freeze.

After three days, the road reports weren’t getting any better, and the few other travelers staying with me checked conditions at breakfast, talking about the weather in the way that you do when you don’t have any control over it (which is always, but you feel a lot more powerless when you’re trapped).

We lost electricity and running water, and a man who spoke quiet French offered me a ride to the grocery store. I accepted, and from inside his car we watched the snow melting on the windshield. I bought a loaf of bread, a cucumber, a lump of cheese and some wool mittens. With two sets of lungs and very little common language between us we drove in silence, the heartbeat of the wipers thumping, left, right, left, right. 

Dimmuborgir.

That evening, emboldened by the grocery store outing, I cleaned the snow off my car with mittened fingers, determined to go on an adventure. Nearby were the Dimmuborgir lava fields, and dusk was creeping in as I parked in the vacant, snowy lot, a kilometer down a dead-end road, stubbornly convinced I might get a decent photo despite the weather and the waning light. I climbed down slush-ridden paths with black lava formations rising around me like galactic clouds, crows flying backward on the wind draped in gnat-like clouds of clotting snowflakes.

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Feet getting wetter with every step in the sloppy ice, I imagined slipping and falling and busting up a knee and not being able to walk (and no one finding me until at least the next day, dead and frozen, because no one knew I wasn’t in my room). I berated my imaginary broken-knee self. “Who do you think you are, National Fucking Geographic? What are you doing out here?”

I kept with it for a while, and drove home in the dark, slip-sliding along as the road zipped itself up against the wind.

~

Hallelujah, the great storm is over.

On the first day of calm skies, it was time to leave. I caravanned through flat open fields and mountain passes with a sweet Canadian couple. The roads were still quite icy, and the drive was beautiful but frightening. Lava formations encrusted in ice watched us drive like frosty prairie dogs waiting for the danger to pass.

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And then, like it had never happened, I was through the mountain passes, walking on a beach with kelp & bird bones & matted feathers & split mussel shells straddling the wet sand. Waves crashed up behind the break wall, and I was on my way.

~

October 24, 2013

Field Notes from the Single Lady Pilgrimage Trip: Part 2

Envy.

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Sometimes I find myself comparing a trip to other travelers’ experiences. Meeting someone in a hostel some night who has biked a hundred miles and gotten back from their yarn factory tour just in time to go whale watching can make you feel like you’re just not making the most of your days. Trying to shake the feeling that I was missing out on something, I took myself on a last-minute horse-ride tour.

All alone with my guide, Pitla and Baelur the horses, the cold wind on my face, tugging at the collar of my jacket. Saddle jouncing between my thighs. We didn’t talk much, just breathed air in the shadow of the mountains, listening to the animals sigh and trot, closing my eyes.

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On a cold, clear night in Akureyri, I went aurora hunting.  Three women and myself, strangers, freezing under the stars, wind so sharp we could barely keep our eyes open.  We never did see any auroras, but we laughed until we cried, until it was time to give up and head back. I went dancing that night with another group of just-met pals, some Belgian boys on holiday from school. I danced until I was done and left without saying goodbye.

Earth.

There are moments

in moist love

when heaven

is jealous of what

we on earth

can do.

  -Hafiz

~

Before this trip was a reality, when it was an unformed lump of travel lust, I already knew I wanted to get to Mývatn, a lake in the Northern part of the country with a small, beautiful, less-touristed hot spring.

This day’s weather was predicted to be the best for the next week in Mývatn and so in the morning, I made a snap decision to go there immediately. I didn’t tell anyone. I packed my bag and got into my car and sat for a moment, wondering at all that, feeling like I was getting away with something.

I think I was.

~

I had about six hours of daylight and a lot of stops to make, my teeny tiny car bouncing dutifully down gravel roads, up mountain roads, and over crusty lava fields.

I went first to a hot spring inside a tiny cave, steamy and breathy and dark and damp. Its water was so clear and glassy I had to throw a pinch of sand to see where the surface of the water began before my eyes adjusted to the lack of light, a shocking little ripple of sparkles right at my feet.

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There was a sulfur field at the base of a low mountain range, with burping pools of blue-grey mud, teal and copper and ochre earth split with rivulets of hot water, steam vents screaming their constant hffahhhhhhh of release, the chokingly present stink of earth’s breath.

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Down the road, a turquoise floodwater lake in the crater of an ancient volcano. I ran up to the edge, breathless, scrabbled around the ridge circling the caldera.

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Nearby, a recent volcanic eruption (the year before I was born) left still-hot earth, steaming vulvar fissures in the mountainside, black rock like brain synapses.

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I made a little list in my notebook:

1. I never realized I was so afraid of volcanoes.

2. I believe in magic.

Folded over earth with decades-past drips under the overhang and milky blue water in unexpected pools.

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Light waning, I drove to the last stop of the night, a lake on a farm spiked with with bonelike lava pillars, surly sheep and shocked ducks. Midge flies hovering around my mouth and nostrils,  I tried to breathe through the down collar of my jacket.

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IMG_3880The entire day was so secret-feeling and wild and gorgeous; frantic and rewarding at the same time.

And in then, it began to snow, light, nearly imperceptible…..and I had no idea what terrible weather was coming the next day.

~

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