Penguins, seals and whales

I assume my usual position in a piloting chair in the Bridge. It’s 9:30 am and I had just finished my cup of coffee and bowl of granola down in the galley. “In your seat again I see,” says David, the Chief Engineer on the boat, as he walks into the Bridge. He comes up often to give the mate on shift a hard time and to see the wilderness like the rest of us. I smile in reply and continue knitting.

“Penguino!” shouts Sam, one of the crew members who works in the Bridge helping the mate on shift. I put down the knitting and jump up grabbing the camera.

“Where?” I reply as I turn on the camera and remove the lens cap.

“Port side 10 o’clock.” I dash out the door and run down the stairs to the 02 level. The lower you go the closer a shot you can get. The penguins he spotted were 3 Adeles and 1 Emperor on an ice flow about 200 feet away from the side of the boat. The Adeles get very frazzled by the big orange ship that is approaching them and they tend to run around like chickens without heads. They usually run back and forth on the ice flow flapping their wings in distress. Sometimes they jump off the ice flow just to jump back on and run around some more. Don’t feel bad for the little guys though, it’s absolutely hilarious. The Emperor Penguin, which is a good 2 feet taller than the Adele, stands tall and proud on the ice flow completely un-amused by the approaching boat. After losing most of the feeling in my fingers and snapping about 25 photos I climb the steps back up to the Bridge. “Okay so you have seen your penguins, now what do you want to see?” asks Chris, the fourth mate on the boat. He graduated from the Merchant Marine Academy in 2008 and this is his fourth month on the NB Palmer.

“How about some seals and then maybe some whales…” Before I can complete my sentence the Captain chimes in in his Latin accent, “She’s demanding, getting picky now.” “No, no,” I insist, “that is now what I meant. All I am saying is that first we wanted to see some penguins and just the chin-straps fulfilled that wish. Then we stepped up to the Adele and now we have seen the great Emperor. So the next step would be some seals with the final step some whales.” Although I have rightly explained myself, not demanding at all, the Captain doesn’t let up and the banter continues for a few minutes. Later on in the morning Rachel comes up the stairs and flops in the chair next to me.

“Still knitting?” She asks not looking at me but gazing over my shoulder to the field of ice flows that are just past the window. She is making a peculiar face as she adjusts her eyes to the bright white.

“Still applying to jobs?” I reply back. These have been our tasks for the past couple of days me knitting and her applying to jobs; she is finishing her postdoc in May. She sighs and I quickly change topics knowing that she came upstairs to escape the stress not make the scab bleed more. “Do you think that there are parts of the world where the distance between you and the horizon is greater or is it a standard distance? I feel like I can see forever up here but I can’t decide of it is an optical illusion. If the white of the ice meeting the white of the sky just makes me feel like I can see into infinity.” Rachel looks at me now, tilting her head into her thinking pose. She begins by reasoning with science, explaining how the bulge of the tide at the equator would block your vision if you were standing on a beach in say New Jersey, whereas the less extreme tides at the poles create a flatter surface allowing you to potentially see further.

“But I understand what you are saying about optical illusions with the ice,” she adds. “The floating ice on top of the water makes me feel as if the water should be much shallower than it is. I cannot wrap my head around the fact that we are over some of the deepest waters in the world and yet there are these ice flows and an entire community that lives near and above the ice.”

“I completely agree. When I was up here yesterday and the ice was flows where smaller yet denser I felt as if I was on a toy boat in a huge bath-tube with the ice being the suds, with the white of the sky being the never approaching boundary of our world. I feel as if I should be able to step off the boat and the ice would come up to my hips. And then you have these gigantic ice burgs that are just magnificent mountains popping out of the water. I haven’t even begun to process those.” We fall to silence for a moment enjoying each other’s company and gazing outside to see what there is to see. It’s a beautiful day, a bit more windy than yesterday but not really windy at all. Yesterday it was so still the water looked like glass.

“Seal!” yells Sam “Starboard side!”

“You got your wish,” chuckles Chris. “Now where are the whales?”

“Just a matter of time, patience” I reply as Rachel and I dash out the door camera in hand.


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