Beam me up, Scotty

Originally posted December 28, 2005 by Linda Lou Burton from Drake Passage, Antarctica – The rolling woke me up at 3 AM. The sun outside revealed the waves. Waves, and nothing but. I reached for the wristbands, pulled the covers up. I woke at 5, and then again at 7. The ship was rolling, swaying, natural for open waters, not natural for a land-lubber like me. At 8 I’m up, I showered leaning in the corner of the stall.

Waffles in the dining room, I made it, hand to hand and rail to rail. The waffles smelled so good, but I did not think I could make it to the plates. “I will bring it to you, Madame,” said the waffle maker, “would you like syrup?” I sat down, gratefully. The coffee sloshed in my cup. Would my glass of water tilt? I held it with one hand, fork in the other, ate.

Hell Served for Breakfast: Tales of the Aurora” was the lecture for the morning. Our leader Ian was to tell the tale, in Torghatten Salong. I went, sank into a seat close to the door. Ian lifted the mike, surveyed the green-faced crowd, chuckled wickedly. “One of you will leave,” he said. “I guarantee it. At least one of you will have to leave.” The tale began, explorers, hardship, winter winds, disaster. “The dogs were starving, the men were too. Wild loaded all the good supplies on one sled, pulled by six strong dogs; the weaker dogs were hitched to less important things.” Which sled went over the crevasse?

The good one of course (guess Wild had never heard of Aesop’s basket of eggs, eh?). The men were left with no food, six starving dogs. One dog died that night, they cut him into pieces. The dog was tough, the men could hardly chew. They boiled the feet, made a gel of doggie paw. They ate the liver.

“I’ll be your first to go,” a lady near the front stood up, and left. Ian chuckled, continued. “The men were sick. Their skin fell off. Their mustaches fell off. They lost the soles of their feet. They were coming apart. Wild taped the soles of his feet back on, crawled miles and miles on hands and knees.” An aside here: Ian explained that sled dogs store high amounts of Vitamin A in their liver, toxic to humans. It was the doggie liver that made the men ill, not the doggie-paw gel. Good to know.

Ian ended his tales of heroic explorers with a poem about “fighting to the end, never quitting.” I had made it to the end. I am heroic, I thought, as I bumped into the wall, slung myself towards the door, grabbed a post. Betty, waiting by the elevator, put out her hand for me. I made it to my room, and slept.

A bite of lunch before they closed the doors at 2. I wanted to hear the lectures, divert my mind. Manuel would tell us more about penguins today. Name and Naming was the title of his talk. Hand to hand and chair to chair, I made it to the front of the room.

On the board Manuel had written: Pen-gwyn, Pin-wing, Pinguis. “Welcome to Penguin 505,” he said. “Today we will talk about how penguin was name.” He pranced side to side, ready to challenge us. “Who can tell the first OCCIDENTAL man who saw the penguin?” he asked, looking at our faces, who would know?

I was sure I had the answer. “Magellan!” I said proudly. “You go to the water!” he shouted. “No!”

“Drake?” said someone else, “Darwin,” said another. “Oh! You go to the ice! Wrong you are wrong! Oh! No one knows!” he shook his head. We were bewildered, out of names.

“Columbus?” quietly said. Manuel rolled his eyes. “Columbus? He went to tropics, not to cold waters!” “Vikings, then?” I tried again. Manuel did not like that answer either.

“You are thinking the wrong place,” he told us. “It was South Africa! Vasco da Gama!” Strutting proudly, he knew he’d fooled us all.

“Now, who was first Occidental man to see penguin in South America?” he challenged again. I was quiet, this time. No one else answered, either. In disgust he told us, “Magellan! You know your history! Magallenic penguins I have told you before!”

“I was afraid to say it again!” I said. Manuel patted the top of my head. “Magellan, now you know.” Now I know. I think I passed Penguin 505.

But I have not passed Seaworthy 101. I went back to my room, and slept again. Tonight, no dinner for me.

A quote on our handout attributed to Deborah Harler says it all: If 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by water, how come so much of it seems to be between the Antarctic Peninsula and the Beagle Channel?

Beam me up, Scotty.