Written on July 9 and posted on 11/19/18.
On May 20 we crossed 80° North and that evening during the day's recap, the plan for the next day was to travel north north north, possibly to 81°. We buzzed with excitement at the novelty, the wonder of it all, the Facebook post we'd ultimately write. And then the sobering truth was illuminated - the sea ice concentration in the Arctic is low. NASA reported, "Every year, the sea ice cover blanketing the Arctic Ocean and surrounding seas thickens and expands during the fall and winter, reaching its maximum yearly extent sometime between late February and early April. The ice then thins and shrinks during the spring and summer until it reaches its annual minimum extent in September. Arctic sea ice has been declining both during the growing and melting seasons in recent decades."
The ice that should be there - it's not there.
24 hours later, we'd crossed 82°. An announcement was made while we were finishing up dinner, and we politely if not urgently finished dessert, rushed to don coats and hats, and headed to the bow of the ship to mark the occasion. I celebrated the moment with and for my students - past, present, and future - who are the reason why I was standing there in the Arctic Ocean overwhelmed with wonder and experiencing what I called, "wonder-induced ADD."
Over these days, the ship's captain and naturalists reflected on the visceral, stunning, and seemingly irreversible vanishing of ice they have witnessed over the past 20 years. Their stories are personal and poignant.
I've come to know that celebration is often married to mourning, and in their stories I heard the nuance of this complicated and conjoined set of emotions.
So while I am astounded and grateful and pretty-damned giddy that we crossed this arbitrary yet potent invisible line, I know - we know - that we should not be on a ship in the third week of May in that part of the Arctic.
Read more about the low sea ice in the Arctic this year at
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As a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, I traveled to Svalbard in May 2018! Thanks to Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic for supporting teachers and encouraging us to be explorers.
Some of the text shared here was written in my journal or through social media posts while I was on expedition.
But much of the writing shared here was written in the months following my return home.
I had this idea that I would embark on my journey and, in real time, reflect and write and create blog posts and videos and online albums and photo books and postcards. I had fantasies of sitting in the ship's library with my pen and notebook, collecting and composing what I'd seen and experienced and manifesting deep, profound thoughts.
Yeah. That didn't happen.
My experience was so intense, so surreal, that I had difficulty finding adequate words to describe it all. Silly, inconsequential, and unsatisfying words were all I had - great, amazing, unbelievable, incredible. At the end of each day I would try. After dinner, somewhere between 10pm and midnight, I'd make my way up to the library to write. But I would get distracted. The large, glorious, gorgeous windows were too inviting and each moment was unique. The clouds were shifting, the water was moving, the ship was in motion, the ice upon the water was drifting. Each and every moment was unique.
My eyes were up and wide open. I was outside on the deck feeling the cold air and the lightly falling snow on my face. Or I was sitting on the bridge, snuggled in warmth, with a pair of binoculars looking looking looking. Oh, I tried to shift my thinking to writing something more than a bulleted list, but I just couldn't pull it off.
To put it simply, I couldn't focus.
I coined my condition Wonder-Induced ADD.
It is a beautiful affliction to have.
This blog is dedicated to my aunt, Tina Chavez, who is always my biggest fan and supporter. When I told her about my expedition to the Arctic, she asked, "So, when do you go on the Polar Bear Express?"
She also told me to run fast from the polar bears, but naming this blog "Run, Jen, Run!" isn't as charming as calling it "The Polar Bear Express."