The Adventure Juggling Act

 Adventure, Travel  Comments Off on The Adventure Juggling Act
Aug 222018
 

Adventures are all about challenging myself to step beyond the everydayness of daily life and finding that which can teach me something new. It begins, I suppose, by taking on the attitude that life itself—even that which appears to be normal or routine—is always a challenge, even without the add-on of going somewhere. Just getting out of bed is a new adventure, if you ask me.

But when I’m headed out in a way that will cause me to be absent from my routine life, getting out the door takes on a higher degree of challenge. Leaving home and hearth even just for a week or two requires the ability to walk through the house with eyes re-trained for the possibilities, and taking the time to prepare for the best outcome possible.

It’s not easy, extricating oneself from the usual. There are other humans (and, for me, animals) whose upcoming needs require forethought. It’s reassuring to know who will care for them, and that they feel ready to handle the various things that can arise. There’s a plethora of little things to address: bills, feeding the fish in the fishpond, watering the plants, and such. How to address weather-related possibilities, such as power outages or flooding? (I finally invested in an auto-generator, the peace of mind from which exceeds the considerable financial hit! This, in the wake of a freezer filled with a mix of meat, fish, ice cream and veggies that failed one hot summer, and wasn’t discovered for, yeah, weeks…) I deep-water the newly-planted trees, hoping they will be ok ‘til I get back. I fret about the hydrangeas.

It seems emotionally worth it not to let preparations take on a frantic or urgent or hassled air. I know I’m incredibly lucky to be able to wander the way I do. I think about this if the build-up threatens to become overwhelming. I relish that delicious sense of anticipation that comes when I step back and think how, out there where I’m headed, it’s all already there. I ponder what it will be like when I get there, what the weather will be, who I’ll meet, what we’ll do with our time. It’s a happy gift I give myself over and over, when I think, “In xxx days, I’ll be in ___!”

In-home preparation includes walk-throughs assessing what needs my attention, given the upcoming plans. Although it’s not such a great idea to broadcast that I’m leaving home for an extended absence, I always speak with my nearest (and trusted) neighbors in hopes they’ll call the authorities if they hear anything suspicious, or see a van being loaded up with my stuff. There are electronic back-ups to conduct of my computer files, and a hard-drive to drop off at a friend’s house in case the house burns to the ground. They will also get left-over food that won’t keep, along with a list of how to reach the plumber, the propane folks, the heating & cooling guy I use, others.

Day of departure involves its own special to-do list. Are last-minute items in the luggage? Are the windows closed? Doors locked? Grand-father clock pendulum stopped? Disposal run? Heat down? Electronics unplugged? Compost and garbage removed from the house? Toilets flushed?

I never leave home without honoring the concept that it (or I) could all vanish while I’m away. I take nothing for granted. I make sure the people who need to hear it know that I love them.

Adventures! We plan and anticipate, we prepare, we pack and leave, and the time passes (far more quickly than we imagine it will!) We come home again, with luck. Whatever your adventure is, even if it’s a modest one such as getting through the day you have here and now, make it a good one. And enjoy the journey. It’s the stuff of life.

Jul 132018
 

Whales are so mysterious, rising from the deep the way they do. It begins with an impression of presence, then your eyes discern a change in the darkness of the water, then, yes!, there’s something there. Right there! See it? A whale!

For those, like me, who mainly come from earthbound realms, seeing whales could never get old. Sometimes they are so distant that you only see the far-away puff of “blow” as a whale exhales at the surface. Sometimes you get lucky, and they swim past more nearby. Either way, it must be impossible to be a lover of nature, and not love whales.

Humpback blow

Humpbacks rising from the deep!

Here’s some interesting sleep research trivia related to whales. Sleep occurs in phases, include rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM (NREM) sleep. During REM sleep, the tone of voluntary muscles is completely absent, rendering one essentially paralyzed. This bodes poorly for mammals who are swimming! Not wanting to drown, dolphins and whales have evolved the ability (researchers say) to skip REM sleep. However, the restfulness produced by NREM sleep is so essential that marine mammals do something called “split-brain” NREM sleep. “When it is time for sleep, the two sides of the brain can uncouple and operate independently, one side remaining awakes while the other snoozes away,” according to Matthew Walker in Why We Sleep (p.64).

During our time plying the Antarctic waters in January & February, 2018, travelers aboard the National Geographic Explorer saw fin, minke, humpback, and killer whales, and also a couple of the mighty (and mighty rare) blue whales. Even our naturalists were excited to see the blue whales there in the waters south of the South Shetland Islands.

Killer whales surface near the ship!

Our collective excitement stemmed from knowing how, as seal populations faltered in the face of the hunting frenzies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, whale hunters swept into the region. They targeted one whale species until it became scarce, then another, and another, until the whalers worked their way through populations of humpback, blue, fin, sei, minke, and sperm whales. Now, most have rebounded some, but they’re far from safe.

An artfully-arranged whale skeleton

The blue whale population is still rebounding from the decimation of their numbers. In all, more than 300,000 blue whales were taken. The world population now estimated at about 2,000 is still just a fraction of the pre-1911 population. To see them at all, even for seasoned veterans, was highly encouraging.

The whale’s blow-hole — up close!

Blue whales aren’t the only ones in trouble, though. The killer whale researchers onboard our ship said that those they studied on this visit seemed thin. Their theory is that as sea ice diminishes (the place is warming faster than anywhere else), there are fewer stores of krill, which are the shrimp-like creatures relied on for nourishment by all the creatures along the food chain there. Of course, this is worrisome. The researchers are dedicated to monitoring the situation. Armchair whale lovers everywhere: support the science being done on behalf of these magnificent creatures, won’t you?

Antarctic Seals

 Generally Write  Comments Off on Antarctic Seals
Jun 112018
 

Being at the tip of Antarctica brought about unusual wildlife viewing opportunities. I’m more accustomed to watching out for land-based critters in my travels. In Antarctica (the only continent without an indigenous human population), evolution still resulted in many “locals,” but they are mostly in the water. Even penguins, who go ashore to hatch and raise their chicks, spend much (maybe most) of their time in the water. Here, a good pair of binoculars and time spent studying the surface of the water and icebergs were necessary for success.


Because it was late February, the critters were “enjoying” the end of summer. Often, ice floes were populated by basking seals, mostly of the Weddell, Antarctic fur, and crab-eater species. We watched a leopard seal “take” a penguin for a meal one day, which was both gory and fascinating. We were also lucky to encounter elephant seals, on our first foray ashore (see the blog “Oh, Those Penguins!” dated Apr 9, 2018).


Here’s some Antarctic history: In the 1700s and 1800s, seal hunting (and then whaling – to come in the next blog) ran unabated in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica, until many species were nearly wiped out. According to www.coolantarctica.com, “Captain James Cook visited the island of South Georgia in 1775 and reported that there were a great many seals present. Within 25 years of being discovered, the summer catch had climbed to 112,000 animals. By 1822, the southern fur seal was virtually extinct on South Georgia.” It was a story sadly repeated throughout the region.


It was the search for oil (of the seal and whale variety), however, that also led to exploration of the white continent. The first sighting is credited to Russian Naval Captain Thaddeus Bellingshausen in Jan.1820. The first overwintering experience (unplanned!) was a British crew on the ship “Lord Melville” in 1821 (they were rescued the following summer). Throughout the 1800s, intrepid adventurers peeled back the continent’s mysteries, mapping and exploring it (many seeking commercial feasibilities, although none were really found once the whales and seals were hunted down).


The “Heroic Age” of exploration lasted from 1900 to 1922, placing Robert Scott, Roald Amundsen, and Ernest Shackleton firmly in the history pages (along with many others). A familiar saying credited to Raymond Priestley is: “For scientific discovery, give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel, give me Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when you are seeing no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.”


The first female to set foot on Antarctica wasn’t until 1935, when Caroline Mikkelsen accompanied her whaling captain husband there. Luckily, people of vision prevailed and treaties to protect this final frontier. In 1958, the International Geophysical Year initiated efforts to keep the place “non-national,” leading to the Antarctic Treaty in 1961. This has led to strict environmental controls over this fragile place (which seem to be heeded, refreshingly), and thank goodness for that.



[Source: https://www.coolantarctica.com/Antarctica%20fact%20file/science/threats_sealing_whaling.php, accessed June 6, 2018]

May 042018
 

As mentioned in the previous blog post, ice is the most prominent feature in Antarctica. No surprise, considering that the continent is covered with it. Add to that the ice shelves and sea ice that greatly enlarge its area in winter.

Under the ice are vast mountain ranges and sprawling plains, crushed to elevations measurably depressed by all that massive weight on top.

This was a huge iceberg!

Scientists report that if all the ice in Antarctica melted, it would raise sea levels by about 200 feet. It’s pretty cool to see on this photo from NASA how the continental US would look superimposed on the “white continent.”

Closer up, ice offers an unending array of otherworldly and beautiful vistas. Here are some more images from my January/February 2018 visit to the Antarctic Peninsula.

The suggestion was made after the previous blog post to mention how incredibly hard old glacial ice is. It’s an excellent point. I tried to bite some crystal clear glacial ice in Alaska once and was unable to make a dent. The effort nearly broke my teeth!

Notice the seal tracks!

My reader went on to comment that the density of glacial ice is, “part of the reason the Titanic came away so badly damaged, and why the [National Geographic] Explorer [our ship] pushes relatively blithely through sea ice, but is very, very respectful of even small pieces of glacial ice. Whether the pitcher hits the stone, or the stone hits the pitcher, it is still going to be bad for the pitcher. Ditto ships and glacial ice, I believe.” And he’s right!

Home Away From Home

Apr 092018
 

How can a heart not melt when amongst penguins?

Photo Credit: Alison Taggart Barone

This, my first close encounter, came January 29, 2017 on our voyage’s first foray onto the Antarctic landscape. This chinstrap penguin looking directly into the camera can’t possibly be for real…can it? I know anthropomorpholizing animals is antiquated, but, gosh, it was impossible not to attribute any number of endearing adjectives to these hardy, impressive creatures. Continue reading »

Mar 052018
 

Some of the roughest seas of anywhere in the world belong to Drake Passage, making it one of the most iconic, must-experience journeys for anyone in love with adventure. How did I come to know about Drake Passage? I don’t remember. All I know is it has figured in my imagination seemingly forever.


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Chomolhari: Bhutan’s Goddess Mountain

 Adventure, Generally Write, Travel  Comments Off on Chomolhari: Bhutan’s Goddess Mountain
Jan 312018
 

The Kingdom of Bhutan in the eastern Himalaya is among the world’s few remaining mystical, magical places. Hidden from external influences until just a few years ago, the tiny landlocked nation of mostly Buddhists continues to honor its traditional ways while also trying to enter the mainstream of the 21st century, cell phones, internet, and all.

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Jan 102018
 

It was a nasty crash: five vehicles, one on its roof, another ripped in half. One fatality. My job was traffic control. For three and a half hours, I stood by the orange cones, waving oncoming cars forward to the detour. It was one of the busier intersections in town. Beckon forward, point, beckon forward, point.

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