I didn’t expect when I went to Antarctica that I would remember my love of the ocean, remember an early lover who was so in love with the sea that he remained frozen in childhood or that I would hear the siren call and become trapped, quite happily at the seashore in my current life. I never thought I’d move again. Antarctica was a means to an end and so I went and so I changed.
To get to Antarctica, a ship must cross the Drake Passage, the most turbulent, windy, place where two currents meet in the world. I read in James Michener’s Hawaii about early missionaries making the trip around Cape Horn, so I knew passengers get violently seasick. My husband and I ordered seasickness patches and applied them in Ushuaia the day before we left.
I learned we entered the Drake Passage the next night when I awoke and needed to use the restroom. On my trip there I was ping-ponged from wall to wall. After I showered and dressed the next morning, one of the ship’s crew knocked at our door. I was ready to take some great photographs. The attendant said, “Oh, you’re up and dressed.” Her surprise came from the fact that very few others were up and about. She handed us breakfast and bounced down the hall to the next cabin.
During the next days I heard the stories. Some had dashed down to the lobby and obtained seasickness pills in the middle of the night, then threw them up. One lady made it to breakfast but found her plate along with the buffet contents smashed on the floor. The resulting mess explained the personal delivery of food to everyone’s cabin.
My husband and I spent the morning of the second day eerily alone in the bar as if everyone else had become ghosts, perhaps a status not far off. We rode the swells, watching them loom above and descend below the hull. We learned we were experiencing fifty to sixty-foot waves. When we ate lunch, we reached the dining room using ropes to guide our passage. About then I decided I ought to know where the lifeboats were and how they worked.
I followed my husband upstairs to the observation deck, a glassed-in area with a library and chairs that rotated. I realized the yellow lifeboats we passed would look like mini rubber duckies in a swimming pool. They could tumble in the waves and could be found by searchers but in the massive seas, I wondered how long we could survive. Our life seemed very frail.
While seated cozily in a rotating chair, I picked through books from the Observation Deck library drinking tea from the bar on the floor below us. I found out about the natural world we approached.
At one point, a wave swung me around, dumped me out of my seat and into the aisleway where I stumbled toward the glass windows. I managed to catch myself on a table on the opposite side just in time. Around me, books followed me to the floor. We just left them since the constant motion meant nothing would stay put.
Near the end of day, we crossed the Antarctic convergence where the seas calmed, the steady drum of rain ended, and the clouds lifted. With the sun near setting, there it was, land ho!
What a memory. I remember it all so clearly while before me a photograph I took of an iceberg makes its case about reflection. Reflection always comes after the tumult we’ve endured and after calm is established. I remember because of the journey. My patience was tried; my life challenged, maybe even threatened. Without the journey, I have no story and nothing to look back and say, I traveled to the seventh continent.
The iceberg in the photograph is craggy with weathered old faces looking in every direction. The deep blue line at the surface hides mysteries—the bob and dive of penguins, sealions who took their kill, whales feasting on krill.
During the passage, I could never have imagined that I would kayak among ice built over a millennium, layer by layer of snow packed down. Nor did I expect the waters, glass still. And the ice found so delicate they melted from a flower that faded to a snowflake. Without the passage, I had no cost, no emotional investment that meant land ho was exciting, welcome, unexpected, full of awe.
What a trip! The reflection is a faint portrayal of the actual. Edges soften, details blend into shadow. The actual is untouchable. If I hadn’t trailed my fingers into icy water, turned my cheek into the peck of ice wind, and tasted rum-infused hot chocolate by a man in Viking hat, I missed out.
In reflection I could stay caught midair, frozen before hitting a window, or splinter like the freezing sea into hundreds of panes or ice cubes or drift off into fog. Society eventually calls—nieces and nephews showing off their lessons and I need to turn from musing to say, hi.
Although I am the person in the memory, ready for adventure; I am also the camera, memory caught as photograph that won’t fade. I am also the storyteller, ready to make the storm more dramatic, the helpless sick more pitiful.
I am also someone who now lives by the sea. I’ve become the me surrounded by shrieking babies holding up shovels and pelicans diving and bobbing and breaking surf. In my reflection I splinter into hundreds of me that I must sort out. I must repeatedly sew myself together into someone new because life slips away with every wave.
Sheri, freelance writer, novelist, and poet graduated from Ashland University with a MFA in Creative Nonfiction with mixed genre studies in nonfiction and poetry. She is a graduate from Western Washington University in Computer Science and the University of WA Extension Writing Program in Fiction and Poetry. She reads for Baltic Writer’s Residencies,