Jun 132012
A moment of perfect light against this cliff face, caught by Iain

A moment of perfect light against this cliff face, caught by Iain

Day two started early, leaving Hokatika just after sunrise to arrive at the Franz Josef Glacier by 9:30 AM, in time for our scheduled helicoptor ride! We got there with time to spare, but were greeted with disappointing news: the weather wasn’t good enough to make the run up. Come back in three hours?

A rainbow of lichen grows on these rocks.

A rainbow of lichen grows on these rocks.

So, we went for a nice hike along the glacial riverbed that leads up to Franz Josef, got some great shots of unique rocks, waterfalls, and cliff faces, and headed back to town with a shred of hope that the cloud cover would miraculously part in time for our flight. No such luck. The office staff suggested we book again for the following morning. Despite the predictions for worsening weather, we decided to give it another chance. We booked a reservation for 9 AM and as the raindrops started to fall, headed to some nearby glacial hot pools for the evening.

After a night of pouring rain, we awoke to our miracle: clear blue skies and the top of the glacier. Sure that we’d have our chopper ride now, we walked over to the office only to be denied once again! This time? Not enough people booked for our flight; minimum of three required. So they sent us over to another agency that has smaller helicoptors, and booked our fourth flight of the trip. Thankfully within a half hour, we were walking up to the landing pad and climbing into the front seat!

The river valley below, by Iain

The river valley below, by Iain

Unbelievably, it wasn’t until I was in the front seat of the helicoptor with a big bubble window all around me that I remembered my fear of heights. Iain gave me an “Are you okay?” look, right away realizing what was going on. Fortunately I’ve had enough anxiety-ridden bus and car rides through the highlands of Guatemala and Scotland, the French Alps, the Colorado Rockies, California’s Sierra Nevadas, and the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, that I’ve gotten pretty good at basically pretending I’m watching a video game when I get really freaked out, figuring it’s better to die a calm fiery death than a terrified fiery death.

Striations in the glaciers, by Iain.

Striations in the glaciers, by Iain.

With my fears neatly bundled away, I was free to enjoy what I can only describe as a sensory experience fit for the gods. We had a bird’s eye view of everything we’d been gazing at for the last 24 hours, and more. The boney, arthritic trees, their white bark standing stark against the many-shaded greens of the mountain forests. The wineglass stem waterfall, somehow lonier and more stoic when seen from above than when worshipping at its base. And of course, the glaciers themselves, massive beyond belief, stretching white and blue, far into the heavens, only to be out-ranked by the cold, grey, snow-streaked peaks that grow along the fault-line under our feet.

Coming back down again, I realized that I’d simply forgotten about the video camera sitting in my lap on the ride up. I was glad, though, in the end, that I’d gotten to enjoy the expereince of being wafted far up into those ice-covered mountains purely, without the distraction of a job to do.

Mountains above glaciers, by Iain.
Mountains above glaciers, by Iain.

Jun 112012

Here Iain and I are at the Franz Josef Glacier. We just walked up a decent sized hill to a viewing platform where we got our first real look at the glacier proper. I was so excited upon first glance to see that brilliant icey blue that I let out an audible cry of delight…much to the suprise (and I hope amusement) of the group of Japanese tourists that were just around the corner. :) You can’t quite make out the immensity of the glacier in the photo since the great majority is shrouded in cloud, and a bit over-exposed in the distance.

First glimpse of the glacier

We had to get a little higher for a proper look…

The glacier road, view from a helicoptor

Stay tuned for more…

Jan 012012

Ocean of CloudI am staring through the platter-shaped pane at the space below. There are clouds, and then between clouds, little white specks against the deep blue Atlantic. They do not move. The ocean, like time, stands still when observed from a distance.

Are these truly waves I see? From so far away?

I watch keenly for some minutes, like a child silently examining a stranger, to verify that they are not, in fact, small clouds. No, they are too evenly scattered, too distant and grounded. There must be a good bit of wind down there, to produce waves large enough Rough Sea Drake Passagefor me to see. I track what must be a single crest for a minute. Its movement is undetectable against the sea.

An hour later there are no more waves. The great blue expanse below is calm; its storm has passed, or we have passed its storm.

How odd it would be to hear the familiar echoey rumble of a jet from the cockpit of a boat sailing slowly, primitively through the middle of the Atlantic. You look up. “Here goes civilization,” the rumble proclaims, “what are you?”

In my beginning with boats, when I worked on the Isaac Evans up in Maine, I used to stare out at the water most days, with the sun spread across my shoulders and bouncing off the waves, knowing that I was discovering something great. I would think to myself, my God, there are millions of people in their homes right at this very minute, sitting on couches, watching programs on television that mostly bore them. Civilization sounded a little less cocksure in those moments.

Later in the season, we hit a memorable storm. Rain, wind, cold. Hard sailing with a double Sailingreef in the main. Water sloshes across the decks, slippery, slick. Fingers are numb, and raindrops like lead shot when they hit your face. Get those sails down, quick. There’s no time to think in moments like these, just to do. And yet I managed one thought: Millions of people, sitting at home, this very minute…

But now the sea has disappeared for me, under a velvet layer of cloud and twilight. Behind us the sun is setting, just five hours after I saw it rise: the strange time-warp produced by eastward travel during winter. The last of its light reaches up from the horizon, tinting the sky pink, a touch of shimmer across her eyelids before she disappears into the dark.




Dec 312011

Wow! Managed to find a free computer to use at the Singapore airport so I’m saying hello while I have a minute. I have a few things to report. The first is, I just flew over all of western Europe, much of Eastern Europe including a bit of Russia, Pakistan, India and the Indian Ocean.

A really big wing

The second is that I know we all know that we all live on this planet, and it’s big, and there are lots of places, and we have magazines with big glossy photos of those places but I am in Singapore right now. Just in the airport, it’s true, but I’m in Singapore and it truly exists. Just saying.

The third is twelve-hour flights are an absolute nightmare…I found myself doing laps around the plane in the middle of the night while everyone was sleeping just to keep my circulation going. After the third lap the flight attendants started making jokes to me about who’s following who.

And finally, the last thing I’ve realized, maybe again, is that I really do want to see the world. I can’t believe that I’m here on the other side of the planet, having flown over so many nations, so many realities. I fly down to Singapore and I swear the clouds are different clouds. I don’t think I want to do another flight like this again in my life…much too sedentary. But lucky then that I’m a sailor. Because sailors tend to see the world.

So, that’s all I got for this one. See you once again in Australia!