I am working on processing, writing, and sharing my recent Antarctica adventure as an incoming email pops up in the right hand corner of my laptop screen that is filled with pieces of writing and photographs. The email is from my brother who lives in Germany away from mountains and oceans. He just sent me a link to a travel article about an Antarctic adventure. A group of people from Germany sailed from the Falklands to the South Georgia islands and further to Antarctica in order to ski tour in Shackleton's tracks.
Reading this article with its German title that translates “Ernest Shackleton - on the tracks to the end of the world” reminded me of how many people from so many different places are pushing out of their cocoon of comfort to find a raw, albeit not untracked, experience. The fact that Shackleton lost not only a few fingers and toes but also his men to the brutal climate and landscape of Antarctica just seems to make this adventure more intriguing.
My father who loves the mountains and grew up during the second world war witnessing his father slowly dying over several years ,literally in front of his eyes, from open tuberculosis would shake his head and say “when people have no worries and no battles then they get bored and look for trouble.” Clearly, I didn’t grow up learning to embrace my curiosity and hunger for outdoor adventures and play. Maneuvering through daily anxiety that was already layered thick in my cradle was my adventure for so many years. For me, allowing myself to pursue my passion for the outdoors and bleak rugged landscapes always required more of my courage, focus and energy than the actual adventure itself.
Navigating uninhabited icy landscapes makes me feel at ease. It allows me to breath more deeply. Moving through the untouched snow for hours in the Antarctic snowfields, feeling my skies gliding underneath my feet and hearing nothing but my own breathing also reminds me that we are bringing all of ourselves with us, no matter how far away we travel from our cocoon of habit.
In this uninhabited world I hear myself more loudly and at the same time find it much easier to stay in that ephemeral and desired free and non descriptive space of non-doing, non-reacting. I am talking about the space that lies within ourselves, that is without distractions nor the nagging pull of the habitual. The space that allows us to feel free and calm and aligned in all our realms of being, while we also feel the essence of ourselves. Here, in the white desert landscape of Antarctica there was nothing that could push into my thinking, deflect my emotions and thoughts nor compete with that inner space. No distractions, no excuses, no escapes, no to do lists. No wonder Antarctica is so addicting with its calming surface and unsettling nothingnes.
Every Antarctic related adventure writing and report I have read ends the same way. Scientists, adventurers, artists, all are relieved to get back home and the moment they are back on solid cultured terrain they are already looking for the next opportunity to go back. Antarctica is the last and only unclaimed and uninhabited frontier on earth- Thanks to the Antarctic Treaty!! Since I returned back home to Vermont I have been paying attention to finding open spaces like I experienced in Antarctica. It is difficult despite the fact that I am living in a very rural and low key part of the country where billboards are outlawed and where the internet connection in my house is spotty. Still,I have to look closely in between the noise of daily life to see crevasses hidden underneath the blanket of habit, distractions and sensory stimulation.
In Antarctica I had to pay attention to NOT fall into the empty open spaces. The landscape underneath the untouched blanket of snow was dissected by crevasses which were created from the immense pressure of glacial movement. I was acutely aware of these hidden dangers and relied on our guide who knows how to read this cracked landscape that looks like an endless white blanket to the untrained eye. Skinning uphill, he carefully poked and prodded with his ski-pole to test the integrity of snow layers. While tethered to the safety rope and following his tracks I would asked endless questions (his patience I am eternally thankful for). I wanted to understand his decision making process of when to trust and when to prod. He has done this work, guiding on glaciers and mountains, for so many years, his whole grown up life, that the knowledge and experience is in every fiber of his body and mind. I knew that I was working with a master in site specific work. I also knew that the skills of reading glacier landscapes would be meaningful in my life back home. Here, back in Vermont I am looking for the crevasses as well, figuratively speaking. No matter how massive the force of noise and sensory input is, there always are cracks. You just have to know how to see them. Once you see the crevasse you have a choice to pause within the empty space or move past it and let the crack fill in with noise. Sometimes it takes some poking and prodding to uncover the figurative crevasses and sometimes they just open up when I pause my forward movement.