Friday, December 23, 2016

Memories from a holiday in Antarctica

Nine years ago - before Shelburne Community School was even on our family's radar screen - I had the unique opportunity to spend five weeks as the Educational Liaison Officer on an NSF Icebreaker expedition from Punta Arenas, Chile to McMurdo Station in Antarctica.  

Home for five weeks in 2006 - the Swedish icebreaker Oden
The experience left me with countless memories - but perhaps the most poignant visually was Christmas Eve, a magical evening of slowly navigating through through mountainous bergs in the midst of a deep fog.

Midnight view from the Oden's deck working our way through the Ross Sea in Antarctica
The next day we awoke to perhaps the most beautiful day of the expedition - seas like glass amidst alternating banks of low fog and crystal clear blue skies.   In the midst of this breathtaking icescape - I crafted a blog that I often revisit as the story reminds me to find meaning not in the material things of life, but in love and caring of those around us - a reminder that I often need this time of year.  

View from the deck on Christmas Day 2006
 I know not all members of our community celebrate this time of year as my family chooses to - and I truly hope I don't offend with my references in this post to the beliefs that we have chosen to embrace.  Instead my hope is to share my desire that in the midst of whatever we choose to fill this vacation time with - that we also find comfort and peace through sharing in the lives of those we love and care for.  Have a great holiday and I look forward to reconnecting in 2017 - Allan    

Merry Christmas from the Ross Sea
"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”
As I was leaving our home in Silver Spring, Maryland three weeks ago – my wife Joan handed me a thick ziplock baggie stuffed with colorful envelopes. She and our two sons – eight year old Xander and five year old Mackenzie - had put together 25 handwritten and decorated cards, one for each day to open during our expedition. They’ve been a menagerie of humor, great animal art from my sons that only parents can really appreciate, and collections of quotations, Bible verses, and thoughts that have warmed my heart throughout the journey. My morning tradition has been to sneak off after breakfast to the serenity of the helipad - only the gentle rumble of the engines four decks below and the occasional crack of the Oden humbling another frozen piece of the Ross Sea to break the stillness of this magnificent desolation. Seemingly alone in the Antarctic – this empty fifty meter square of metal is my peaceful escape where I can savor a steaming cup of dark Swedish coffee and my family’s message for the day. This morning was spectacular as only an Antarctic Christmas morning can be – crisp, frosty air and bright sun shining over pure white sea-ice stretching to the horizon in every direction, interrupted only by towering icebergs imprisoned in the frozen wasteland. Adelie penguins playfully flapping their silly little wings, pure white snow petrels soaring overhead, towering icebergs majestically reflecting off the still sea – I could only sit and ponder the incredible gift I’ve been given to be able to experience this continent and try to share a bit of the awe and wonder with each of you.
Today's envelope was decorated by Mackenzie - with some green trees and his trademark smiley face (two eyes, nose, smile and an extra large dot below that has yet to be explained!). The message he'd chosen (we're just into the learning to write the alphabet stage in kindergarten) was "HaCDzDEiWWN" which I chose to interpret as "I love you Dad." The boys had selected a card with a glittered picture of a cabin in a wintry forest - captioned "Thinking of You At Christmas." Inside was a wonderful holiday message from Joan which I enjoyed (but won't share) and then laid the card down on the deck while I returned to enjoying the view. It wasn't until a few minutes later that I noticed the quote that she had added on the back - "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart." It was an epiphany - and truly made my day complete to be reminded so poignantly of what is to be prized in life.
So no pictures today – for as my wife was so timely to remind me - Christmas is a time to appreciate those things that are truly the best and most beautiful. Icebergs, penguins, and seals can hardly compare with the love of our families, the warmth of true friendship, and the wonder of a tiny baby born two thousand years ago. For all the grandeur of Antarctica - the best part of today was a reminder that came in an envelope with green scribble trees and an odd smiley face on the front. My hope is that each of you experience a holiday full of this beauty that you can feel with your heart. "God Jul” from the Oden.

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