Gib Finney’s sequel to THE POWER OF UN
The Petrel and the Ice
24 June 2008, Finney @ 7:56 pm

[This post written 6/24/08; position: lat -57’52”, long -42’40”; temp 1C; wind chill -11C]

Today has been interesting in a lot of different ways. I guess I will start with the ice we found that had a brown stripe. There were a lot of small chunks of ice in the sea yesterday, and we went through a patch of it where almost all of the pieces had a brown stripe running through them. There’s a picture of one above, which was about the size of my dad’s old Volkswagen beetle, I would say. The icebreaker broke it not long after the picture was taken. That was pretty great for Dr. Shaw, who captured a piece so he could see what was in the brown stripe. Yesterday, while it was still frozen, he thought it was probably a layer of ash or dust from a volcano. But today, after it thawed out, he discovered that it was actually something that had once been alive, like algae maybe. (It smells like fish.) He has given some to the biologists to see if they can figure out exactly what it is. Right now, it is still somewhat mysterious.

Another exciting thing is that the ROV had a really great day today. Brett, Paul, and Dr. Robison guided it down 56 meters, where they got some very cool pictures of the underwater parts of the iceberg. They expected to find stuff growing on the ice, but there wasn’t much. The scientists think this may be because it’s winter, so there’s not much light, which plants need in order to grow — even those that grow underwater. They also saw some interesting sea creatures, including chains of salps, a medusa jellyfish, and a squid about 8 inches long. This was the last flight for the Phoenix. Tomorrow we will be going all around the iceberg one more time for Dr. Helly, and Dr. Twining and Dr. Shaw will do some more water sampling. They will use the towfish, which is always fun to watch.

Now we get to the embarrassing part, which is that when one of the best photo opportunities of the trip came along, I did not have my camera. Dude. I always have it with me when I go out on deck. But this morning, I was feeling sort of sad when I woke up, I guess because Rainy and Ash don’t believe me about Strike. And it was easy to wish I were home playing with my other friends and Doofus in the warm sun instead of out here in the ice, and easy to leave the camera on my bunk. I climbed the stairs up to the lifeboat deck and stood by the railing looking at iceberg A43K. It was snowing, and there were lots of petrels fishing in the slushy brash ice between the ship and the distant iceberg. I love to watch them. They are so good at flying, no matter how much or how little wind there is. They can skim along right above the water, so close they’re almost touching it. If I could fly, I would hope to fly like that. I was standing there watching them, and one landed on the railing right next to me. I could have reached out and tried to touch it, though I didn’t, of course. I would have scared it away.

It was a snow petrel, pure white except for its eyes, beak, and feet. (Like I say, I didn’t have my camera, and I am pathetic at taking bird pictures anyway. I asked Rob Sherlock if I could use this picture just to show you what a snow petrel looks like.) So one of these was sitting on the railing right next to me. It turned its head and looked at me with a shiny black eye, and it opened its beak a little. You’ll laugh but I stood there wondering if it was going to start talking, like Strike. But it didn’t. Instead, it turned toward the iceberg, gave a little cry, raised its wings and flew off.

At that very instant, the iceberg calved. A long piece of its white cliff face fell away, longer by far than the Nathaniel B. Palmer, longer than three Nathaniel B. Palmers I’d guess — slowly at first, then faster. For a second or two, all that ice disappeared beneath the dark gray water. Then it bobbed to the surface again, and the air was suddenly full of petrels and powdery ice. A wave with a frothy white crest started toward the ship. I don’t know how tall it was. Tall enough to make me wonder if I should be trying to get inside. The ice must have made a huge noise when it hit the water, but I have no memory of that. My memory is silent except for the pounding of my heart.

Just then, the petrel came back. I can’t explain how I knew it was the same one. But there is no doubt in my mind. The wave was coming toward us, but the petrel wasn’t worried. It turned its head to look at me again. And it seemed to me there was a question in its eye — a question about me and Old Gib and the future. I can’t explain this, either, but I felt as if the ice and the petrel had changed something inside me, as if a switch went from one position to another. And I knew Old Gib didn’t have to worry anymore. While I watched the wave and the petrel, I had made the earthshaking decision that would somehow allow Roxy to fulfill her destiny. The strangest thing is that it wasn’t anything big. It was one of those spider footsteps that shakes everything on the big web. I decided to stay on deck and watch the rest of the calving along with that fearless petrel. I will never forget the sight. Every time I think of it, I will remember it as the moment when I decided Old Gib was okay after all, and I wouldn’t mind growing up to be what he is: a scientist.

I almost ended the post there. LOL! You probably want to know what happened when the wave hit the ship. Nothing much. The ship rocked, but not much more than it has rocked many a night since our journey began.