The National Science Foundation Antarctic Artists and Writers Program deployed me to Palmer Station, Antarctica in the austral summer of 2003. I had almost no idea where I was going or what the place looked like, let alone what to expect. The NSF has warned me in advance to hope for nothing, as Antarctica has a way of thwarting the most well-laid plans. Secretly, I hoped for icebergs, but told nobody.
We sailed from Punta Arenas, Chile aboard the USRV Laurence M Gould, and on our third night as sea, approaching the Bransfield Strait about 2:00 AM, I saw it: my first iceberg. The sky and the water were black, but the southern horizon glowed with the intensity of an arc light: the ice from the White Continent, still hundreds of miles away, fluoresced through the pall like a beacon, drawing us south. A tabular iceberg the size of a hospital appeared off our port bow, glowing an impossible blue in the perpetual twilight, larger and still impossibly larger until it filled the windows of the pilot house. I ran our on deck, and as we passed the berg, still probably half a mile away, I could feel the cold radiating off the massive chunk of ice. In that moment, I knew this was going to be a journey without a guidebook, as the sheer scale and mass of that iceberg cause me unaware, and quite simply had me standing there, in awe. This was Terra Incognita, alright...otherworldly, and ungraspable, even now.
That iceberg, and all the others I saw during those 34 days at the bottom of the world, has long since disappeared, raising the sea level just a little bit more. That trip was legendary for icebergs, and even veterans of The Ice couldn’t remember seeing so many icebergs afloat along the way. I had dared to hope for icebergs, and Antarctica, in a rare moment of beneficence, gave me what I wanted.
Peaks Island, maine