May 20 - 6 months ago - after an exhilarating morning at the bird cliff, the plan was to go ashore for some exploration on land. A polar bear thwarted those plans.
We could not have been more thrilled.
Watching this magnificent animal - The King of the Arctic - was one of the highlights of my life much less as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. I remember distinct moments of delight and wonder with snow lightly falling. I remember juggling my camera with the rented 400mm lens (the bear not too close) and the pair of binoculars that a charming, generous couple from Arkansas let me use for the entire expedition.
One of the true wonders of this experience was that we had time. Time to take hundreds of photographs (literally, gulp), but, more importantly, time to watch and to be in the moment. The binoculars were a game-changer. I got to revel in the details of the bear's fur and furry paws. When it was swimming, I watched its nose bop up and down over. And when it was ready to get out of the water, as it began to lift its body back onto the snowy bluff, I wavered. Do I switch to my camera to capture this? Will I miss the moment if I do?
I stayed in the moment, without photographic evidence. Without regret because I remember the bottom of its sizeable paws with its black pads and how the water didn't drip off the paws, it flowed off in a steady stream from its waterproof fur. The bear stepped up and out of the water, one paw at a time, effortlessly and with grace. I expected it to shake - much like our dog would after a bath or after being caught in the rain - but it didn't. It just kept walking and we kept watching until it was time to go scout a new location for a landing.
I've since used these photos and these stories with my students in our reading intervention class. We've spent the last couple of months exploring the Arctic. I'm so grateful to these 6th graders for my daily excursion back to this place and back to this bear.
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."