Dancing in Antarctica (Part II)

Two years ago this week I was in Antarctica, the place of my dreams, stark and cold as it was.  This past week, I’ve watched my trip DVD a couple of times and been wanting to go back. It is a place which possesses a mystical lure that can’t be explained or understood…unless you feel it too.

This week I also took a chance and submitted a name proposal to the United States Geological Survey (specifically, the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names). Yes – you can propose names for geological features (glaciers, bays, inlets, coves, etc.) in Antarctica which do not already have one. But there are rules. And they’re very strict. I knew that when I submitted my proposal. I knew it would be rejected for violating their rules, but I did it anyway. One never knows for sure what the answer is until they ask the question.

So I proposed naming the glacier at Brown Bluff (our last stop on the frozen continent) Turtle Glacier in honor of my beloved cat.  As you can guess though, pet names are one of the big no-no’s on their rule list. But like I said, I tried it anyway. For Turtle.

It took them two days to reject it. So be it. At least I tried.

As I once saw on the internet somewhere: “cats operate on the principle that it never hurts to ask.”  So…kisses to you Turtle. I miss you.

Dance when you can, and always ask questions…even when you know the answer is no.

And now…to a replay of “Dancing in Antarctica – Part II”  I hope you enjoy.

Our first landfall on the Antarctic Peninsula was later the same morning as my first time on the ship’s treadmill.  As I walked back to my cabin, exhilarated for the first time in days, I didn’t think I could feel more light-hearted than I had a few minutes earlier. But when the door closed behind me, my iPod – which I had switched to shuffle mode – began to play “Hey, Hey, Hey” by Michael Franti & Spearhead.

I stopped to listen as the song reached its chorus: “Hey, hey, hey, no matter how life is today, there’s just one thing that I got to say, I won’t let another moment slip away.”

I began to dance. Not a metaphoric dance like on the treadmill. A real dance. I kicked off my running shoes and danced all alone there in the privacy of my cabin. Head bopping, feet tapping, arms waving, fingers snapping, hips swaying.  When the song stopped, segueing into some other tune I don’t remember – I hit reverse and danced some more.

Dancing 1 I think it was the chorus, not just the beat, that struck a chord in me.  Even as I refused to give in to the hope that my beloved pet was still alive and waiting for me, I knew there was nothing I could do. I simply had to have faith, and allow myself to do just what the song said: “not let another moment slip away.” I’d come all this distance, spent all this money. I needed to savor every minute, every second. To that end, I made another decision.

So, after breakfast, when I dressed in my fleece and parka and big ole’ waterproof boots, I put another piece of equipment in my pocket: the iPod. Following a short zodiac ride to shore there at Neko Harbour, I pulled out my iPod, put in my earbuds, and hit “play” to again hear Franti’s “Hey, Hey, Hey.”  And I danced. Yes, right there, in front of the other tourists, the ship’s crew, and…the penguins. With one colony of gentoos on my left, and another up the hill, and who knows how many penguins waddling and tobogganing past me, I danced. I didn’t care if I looked like a complete and utter fool, or if my dancing wasn’t graceful. Hey – it’s not easy dancing in knee-high insulated boots. I certainly got a lot of attention. People took pictures of me; the National Geographic videographer shot some footage. (Yes, I ended up on the final cut of the video provided to the guests – to their amusement or maybe their annoyance – who knows which).

Dancing 2 I didn’t care about any of that. My feet were on Antarctica – the mainland (peninsula), not just on one of the islands which, depending on ice conditions, is as close as some tourists get. I had made it, made my dream come true. I was happy, finally happy.

By the way, no, I’ve never seen the movie “Happy Feet.”

So I kept dancing, for a little while longer, the honking of the gentoos punctuating the musical notes, before I put away the iPod and took out my camera. There were penguins to photograph…even if they weren’t dancing.

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Dancing in Antarctica (Part III)

The best vacations never leave you. The sights, the sounds, and the emotions stay with you forever, laying dormant in your mind until they rise to the surface with even the slightest of urgings. From glancing at a photograph or hearing a penguin honk on t.v. or listening to a song, it can take only a second for unbidden memories to rise. In the most unlikely of places, even the deserts of New Mexico, Antarctica can live again.

It was just after dawn, and I had slipped into the steaming hot pool on the patio of my room at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa. Not wanting to disturb any other guests who might also be enjoying the cool morning air, I turned on my trusty 3rd generation iPod Nano – which has now been to five continents with me – and let it shuffle through songs at a low volume. But after a few minutes, the tunes weren’t fitting my mood. So I scrolled through the playlists, not looking for anything in particular, until I came upon Franti’s song again.

I leaned my head back and, yes, turned up the volume a bit, tapping out the beat with my feet on the opposite wall of the small pool.  It wasn’t dancing, not really, but close enough. As the ripples in the water, caused by my movements, washed over my legs, I imagined myself back aboard ship, listening to the faint slap of the waves against Explorer’s hull. And I remembered the emotional turmoil, the tug-of-war I had felt between despair and hope.

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Not all the lyrics in “Hey, Hey, Hey” speak of hope. They question death, guns, Wall Street greed. As the song reached the line “Until the morning comes again, I will remain with you my friend, and we will ride into the sun…” my thoughts naturally drifted back to Turtle. It’s been seven months since I lost her, but I still miss the feisty feline. Being winter when she died, around 6 am, we didn’t quite make it until dawn, but I did stay with my friend, and even if she did not see the sun again, I did. I held her there, on my chest, her now motionless head under my chin, until after dawn before taking her on her final journey.

With the sun rising higher in the New Mexico sky, I knew it would soon be time to go home to California. My next dawn would find me awakening to the plaintive meows of my other three cats. As much as my heart aches for Turtle, and for other cats lost before her, it is now my duty to take care of those cats still here. My job, my pleasure, to love them, cuddle them, give belly rubs, rest my cheek against them while listening to purrs, and clapping my hands and saying “no, no, bad cat”…..  And, yes, to dance with them when I’m in a silly mood, even if it annoys the hell out of them.