Palmer Archipelago, Antarctica
At our Unitarian Fellowship Kathy quoted a theologian saying there are three prayers, “Help,” “Thanks,” and “Wow.” There was a lot of praying on the deck of the Prinsendam as we cruised out of Palmer Station in Antarctica; “Wow,” “Awesome,” “Oh man,” “Oh my God,” “Good Lord,“ “Holy Crap,” and on the stairwell, “I’m so thankful” and “Every day I say thanks for being so lucky.”
It was foggy earlier in the day when we cruised toward Palmer Station. We couldn’t see much. Palmer Station is the smallest US scientific and research base on the continent with a complement of 45 people in the summer. Sixteen of them motored out to Prinsendam in two Zodiacs. Twelve stayed on board for the afternoon, giving lectures, mingling with the passengers, answering questions, eating fresh fruit and taking saunas. The four who went back brought Holland America tote bags full of fresh fruit. Six hours later, as we passed by the station again the Zodiacs motored back out and picked up the dozen scientists, administrators, engineers and the station’s cook. Those six hours cruising around Anvers and Wiencke islands and through the Neumayer Channel were magic.
We have and expedition team of 6 on board, including three professors from universities in New Zealand who are taking their summer break lecturing on different aspects of Antarctica. In the morning before we reached Palmer Station we learned about the Antarctic Treaty and the biology and evolution of Penguins. The main showroom is always packed for these lectures. One professor joked that he never sees this many students, they mostly download the lecture on line. Those that show up, he says, have that special glow in their faces, the reflection of Facebook from their iPads.
The lectures deal history, wildlife and science with an emphasis on invasive species, global warming, and ocean acidification. I had to ask how our presence, on a cruise ship, affected the fragile environment we are passing through. I know that the ship had to take on different fuel before cruising in Antarctica. We all got stern letters making sure that we monitor our trash and let none of it blow overboard. I got an ice cream cone and asked for a napkin. The scooper told me “no paper napkins in Antarctica.” The lecturer dodged my question about how we affected the environment and, instead, said that the trade off in creating a ship full of informed environmental advocates was worth any impact Prinsendam could have. He stressed that all the lectures were based on science and hoped we would carry the message of this special place. After the lecture the passenger behind me complained that “but he didn’t give both sides of the story on climate change.”
The Palmer crew gave their talk and had a Q and A and reinforced what we had been hearing from the ships lecturers. By the time they were done the fog had lifted and we were cruising through Neumayer Channel. It defies description and invites prayer. The ship’s expedition team was giving commentary from the bridge. The team leader kept saying, get on deck, go outside. “You can’t just watch you have to feel it.” It was cold and windy on deck, just at freezing. That adds to the experience, but mostly it’s being on top of the ship with a 270o panorama (the ship’s funnel blocking that last bit) sea to sky. Gray fog, white clouds, and blue sky framed ice blue and ice silver glaciated mountains. Blue Ice burgs and white growlers floated on a sometimes blue, sometimes gray sea. The refractions of a sundog added to the spectacle. Penguins swam alongside the ship and seals slept on ice burgs. I am trying to describe the indescribable. Better stick with prayer. I spent much of the day trying to photograph the un-photographable.
It’s the Antarctic summer so it remains light late into the evening. At 8:30 the Super Bowl started. The ship planned a big “Tailgate party” and had a big screen set up in the main showroom. People had to make a choice, Seahawks or Penguins. On one of my trips between decks I stuck my nose into the Showroom, with its Super Bowl ice carving, big cakes and lots of food. Many more people attended the lecture on the Antarctic Treaty than were watching Super Bowl. The penguins were winning.