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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Field Note: Vista - A Break in the Storm

Published: January 29, 2021


By Mark Seth Lender


The Antarctic Peninsula in dramatic contrast of light and shadow. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Living on Earth's Explorer-in-Residence Mark Seth Lender elaborates on the emotional impact of witnessing the dramatic light playing upon the Antarctic Peninsula as a storm breaks.

More often than one might think, landscape has an inner life. Hanging Glacier ready to fall and the dread fear of avalanche; Desert that extends dune upon dune and out of sight and no matter how much water you carry your throat goes dry; Ice and more Ice, and the penetrating cold that pierces all layers of warmth no matter how thick or how warm; Storm and the uncertain fate that rides on every wave and the sea breaking against the hull: Sunrise and the pure joy of light and color cleaving the dark of night; Quiet at the ending of a long day, the gulls returning home, a full moon on the rise…

Much as I love or fear or both, all of these places, the mise-en-scène Nature plans and sets at play my favorite landscape is in fact The Unexpected.

The Antarctic is the most distant place I have ever been. It is Mars on Earth, alien and strange. Not to itself of course. The ‘alien’ to whom I refer is me. I find myself hunkered in, much of the time, shoulders tight in a way that does not become apparent until the deck stops moving under one’s feet. And that, as is well known to anyone who has been at sea for more than an afternoon of recreational sailing, takes days.

So there I was. No human beings but we perilous few for a thousand miles in any direction, in a blizzard, borne by a small boat for a ship we could not see, when the clouds parted above the Peninsula. I have described it to you but I have not described it because it is one of those things you really cannot describe. But then in particular there was the sudden and almost illicit sense of Oneness with everything. It descended upon me, through me. And that I can describe as Pure Being and Pure Joy.

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