Thirty-six hours of plane travel later, I’m home and have had enough sleep to string a couple of words together in patterns other people can make some sense of. I think.

The sunrise as we stood on the pier in Punta Arenas waiting for our airport van was the most spectacular I’ve ever seen, bar none. The low, tattered clouds glowed red and orange interwoven with strips of light so bright as to be nearly white. A stone’s throw away, a pair of dolphins played, leaping and splashing. Of course, my camera was packed.

As someone put it during dinner at La Taska (which turned out to be the pub with libations mentioned in the previous post) when a long voyage ends, it’s a strange feeling. You miss home and you can’t wait to see your family again. At the same time, it’s hard to say good-bye to your shipmates. But say good-bye we did — to some who stayed behind on the ship, to some in Santiago, to some in Dallas. With each good-bye, the group got a little smaller, till finally it was just Steve Rock and I headed for San Francisco.

We flew over southern Utah — Zion, Bryce Canyon. I recall looking down on Lake Powell thinking, I want to be down there in the hot, bright sun, floating on my back till every part of me is warm again. John met me at the airport with a hug so wonderful that it was even better than I had imagined it would be — which is saying quite a bit, given my imagination. In a daze, I watched the familiar landmarks slide by. We opened the sunroof, and the wind came in like silk, so different from the iron wind of Antarctica.

As soon as we got home, I went out to look at the garden, which I found transformed by the month of June. Bees hummed, leaves rustled, green shoots had blossomed into brilliant colors. The trees were loaded with fruit. I picked a Santa Rosa plum, ripe and warmed by the sun, and ate it on the spot as the juice ran down my chin. I don’t know if I have ever tasted anything quite so good before.

That has been my approximate state since Wednesday morning — after the austere beauty of the Scotia Sea, the unimaginable lushness of a temperate latitude. Everything is so intense. It’s like being a child again.

Kristof, yes, my understanding is that NPR will do a longer piece on our icebreaker voyage sometime in the next few weeks. Stay tuned. :) Peggy, thank you. I hope you are right, because communicating something about this important research to people who are not scientists was one of my goals. And Phil, I’ll be dancing in the park tomorrow, as a matter of fact, with great pleasure. (We are talking about Tai Chi, sometimes known as the slow dance.)

Ah…and what about my land legs? Merciful heavens be praised, it appears the whole problem was that I had my land legs all along. I haven’t suffered a moment’s “dock rock” since leaving the ship. There is justice in the world.

Oh Those Petrels

[This post written 6/29/08; position: lat -52'55", long -66'46"; temp 4C; wind chill -10C]

In response to Tracy’s comment on yesterday’s post, thank you, Tracy. I’m very glad to hear you’ve enjoyed the virtual trip. I’ve certainly enjoyed writing about it, and having such a great excuse to take thousands of pictures! Will I be joining the scientists for the March voyage? No, I won’t be. Someone else will have their turn at an Antarctic adventure next March. :)

Today, finding myself at leisure, the sun out, and the temperature above freezing, I spent some time out on deck. We have had petrels following the ship ever since we left iceberg A43K a few days ago. The ones I enjoyed watching today were Cape and giant petrels. I estimate that I have about a thousand pictures of petrels by now, most of them truly crummy, because it’s so hard to photograph birds while they are flying. I’m better at it now than I was at the start of the voyage, but that is not saying much. Still, it was great to be outside in the sun. The wind no longer has the biting quality it did further south. With the wind chill now in the minus single digits during the day (and the days much longer!) it felt quite mild out there.

The top picture doesn’t really capture it, but the sea in the ship’s wake was particularly beautiful today. The sun shimmered on the white tips of the waves. In places, the water was so luminous that it seemed to be lit from within, glowing blue-green. The Cape petrels are always fun to watch, they are so skillful in flight — swooping and diving, scooping water with their feet and their beaks. The thing is, they move too fast for this photographer. I took lots of blurry pictures of them. But there were these two giant petrels. Giant petrels are the heavy aircraft of the petrel world, and they move much more slowly than their smaller cousins. Thus, they are a better target for novice photographers. Unfortunately, the best giant petrel picture I got today, lovely though it was, filled the frame to overflowing, mostly cutting off the bird’s head. So I settled for this one. Not as good, but it will give you some idea what I was seeing today in the NBP’s wake.

Now I am off to join the party we’re having down in the galley. The invitation says we should wear our “issued best.” IOW, items of extreme weather clothing we were issued but haven’t worn yet. For me, I guess that’ll be the heavy plaid flannel shirt and the sea boots. We are now in the Strait of Magellan, and the ship’s information screen says our next destination is “A pub with libations.” We should be in Punta Arenas by 10:00 a.m. local time tomorrow. Ah, solid ground, be kind to me, please.