Written and posted on 11/20/18.
Watch. But more than that, listen.
That's the sound of hundreds of thousands of nest birds.
We knew we would wake up in this place. We had been given a preview of what we'd experience, but words alone cannot prepare you for this sensory delight and awe.
We were woken up at 6:30am. I jumped out of bed and started to layer up. At 6:41, I took this picture through our port hole.
Out on deck, we were met with a cacophony of busy birds that surrounded us in the sky, on the water and along the face and in the crevices of the striking, sharp and edgy cliffs before us.
All of this before 8am. Extraordinary.
This is one of my favorite photos ever. I took hundreds at this cliff, and last night (11/19/18) I was going through each one, sifting beyond those that had stood out immediately months ago. I hadn't noticed the ice/snow bridge. Or the birds all along the column of this crevice. Or the powder-sugar snow along the cliff walls.
I've been reading about the Brünnich Guillemot, those black and white birds that are abundant on these cliffs. The Norwegian Polar Institute reports that "The Brünnich’s guillemot is a stout, sturdily built auk that is slightly smaller than the common guillemot, and is one of the most numerous seabirds in the northern hemisphere. Brünnich’s guillemots from Svalbard generally winter in waters off Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland (Canada), although many stay in the Barents Sea throughout the year."
And here's a video clip I found about guillemot chicks' first flights.
Written & posted on 11/19/18
Late in the morning, I had briefly settled in to do some writing. The library on the National Geographic Explorer is a glorious window to the world, inspiring and entirely distracting, the landscape was perpetually inviting and ever-changing.
I was overwhelmed by the colors of the Arctic. I've never been more aware of blue, of the variances of blue. Being under the Arctic blue sky was stunning, a sight that we would not experience for the rest of our expedition in the same way. It was as if the Arctic, on our first morning out at sea, was greeting us in all her bright, sun-drenched glory.
We spent the morning in Krossfjorden where we marveled at the Lilliehookbreen Glacier, the mountainous landscape, floating ice, a couple of seals and a tusk-less walrus.
Here's a 45 degree view of this magnificent place. The way the light changed the views in such a relatively confined space was.....awesome.
Now let's get to a seal and a walrus - even from far away
And, a few videos from my morning
Written and posted on 11/19/18.
This afternoon we were off and away on our first zodiac cruise.
I love zodiac rides. Being out on the open water, racing over the surface, wind in our faces, getting up close to our surroundings - everything about my zodiac experiences was surreal and exciting.
I was in the second zodiac group, so I had time to take in the diversity of the landscape before us.
Up Close and Personal with the Water and the Ice
It was exhilarating. Mesmerizing. Fresh and not too cold. Almost quiet.
Up Close and Personal with the Wildlife
Reindeer and foxes
And one bearded seal
I fell in love with this seal. He was just as curious as we were. To be so close was thrilling!
Finally, the Daily Expedition Report
Our on-ship liaison, Edward, asked my travel mate and me to write today's Daily Expedition Report. You can see the post here.
Here's the text, too:
Today was our first full day aboard the National Geographic Explorer and the Arctic did not disappoint. Clear skies were present in the early hours of the morning and several guests made their way to the deck to preview the day; others stayed cozy in their cabins awaiting expedition leader Brent’s 07:15 wake-up call.
After breakfast, we headed for the lounge, where we had that opportunity to meet the expedition team and get acquainted with how to proceed up in the Arctic. Immediately afterwards, we went down to the mudroom to have our outer layers and rucksacks decontaminated to minimize the introduction of invasive species to these environments.
Before lunch, we sailed into Krossfjorden, stopping at the base of the majestic Lilliehöökbreen Glacier where we spotted a juvenile walrus perched on a small iceberg as well as several seals. Not wanting to frighten the
During lunch, the ship sailed east into 14th of July Bay, and after enjoying lunch and each other’s company, we headed out on our first expeditions. A few headed out for a medium-length or longer hike to view the entire landscape while most guests opted for a Zodiac tour of the fjord. Over the hour, we were treated to many wildlife sightings, including a mischievous arctic fox chasing barnacle geese and a small herd of grazing reindeer. There were nesting kittiwakes on the cliffs whose calls echoed off the cliff walls, and, as we zigzagged across the bay, we spotted black guillemots and glaucous gulls resting on icebergs. King and common eider ducks took flight all around us; the males’ colorful heads stood out against the blue and white glacier and the water. A highlight of the expedition was a close encounter with a bearded seal posing on sea ice. We continued onward toward the mouth of the bay, where Brünnich’s guillemots and Atlantic puffins could be seen at their nesting sites on the cliffsides. Above the cliffs, barnacle and pink-footed geese grazed on the plants. In a couple of places, we saw some spots of purple saxifrage in bloom. Another striking aspect on the towering cliffs was the bright-orange ornithocoprophyllic lichens. These lichens grow close to bird cliffs and benefit from the particles of airborne bird guano, which is why they’re called birdpooplovinglichens.
After dinner we entered Smeerenburgfjorden, an area with a rich history dating back centuries. Whalers and hunters were the first to come here, followed by adventurers trying to reach the North Pole with hot air balloons. Overnight we will sail across the top of the archipelago and cross 80˚N for the first time. Due to decreased sea ice, it’s possible to cross this line of latitudinal significance very early in the season. Tomorrow morning, we’ll awaken to the sights of the Hinlopen Strait. We went to bed glad to get a few hours rest in bright daylight.
Written sometime in September & posted on 11/18/18
Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago situated between the mainland of Norway and the North Pole. In 2016, population of Svalbard was 2,667, with over 2,000 residing in the small, northern town of Longyearbyen. (Fun fact: there are approximately 3,000 polar bears in Svalbard!) The infrastructure of Longyearbyen was built primarily because of coal mining, and while mining remains a major industry, tourism and research also play a part in the economy of Svalbard.
Thanks to fellow passenger Pete Benoit for this list of facts about Longyearbyen:
We spent just a few hours in Longyearbyen, getting a few glimpses of how geography shapes life in this remote place before boarding the National Geographic Explorer. Click through the slideshow to read about my day in Longyearbyen!
Written and posted on 11/18/18
We excitedly boarded the National Geographic Explorer, greeted by the hotel manager Patrik Svaerdmyr. We met up with naturalist Edward Shaw who we'd met in Washington DC during orientation and who would look out for us over the course of the expedition. It was lovely to see a familiar face amidst the hustle and excitement. We set sail around 4:30pm and the first few hours on board were busy:
In between the busy, I headed out on the deck to take in the views.
After dinner, we grabbed our coats, gloves and hats and headed outside to for our first hours of marveling at the wonders of the Arctic.
Sitting in the quiet of the library, a glacier up ahead, port side, I was already mesmerized by the light. It was partly sunny and the water is clear with little pieces of ice floating atop. I watched little birds dance on the water.
I spent a couple of hours on deck. At 10:30pm, it was 38 degrees, and it was hard to pull myself away and inside. The light...the light is dreamy, creamy, luminous and soft.
I met Jasper Doest, the Nat Geo photographer on board, on the deck around 10pm. While I was looking though my view finder, he asked me a few questions that went straight from my ears to my brain to my heart. What are you trying capture? What's the story you want to tell? It was my first day in the Arctic, and I was already overwhelmed with what was around me. How do I put this all into words and images?
I can say this - the landscape was dynamic and ever changing with the constant of movement - the water was moving, we on the ship were moving, the clouds were moving, birds flew around us. The sun burst through clouds and she speckled rays of light across the ice, the mountains, the snow, the water. I'd turn my body 45 degrees and see something entirely new and wondrous. And it was my first night under the Midnight Sun.
The story of this night?
Be curious. Be patient. Stay. Stay quietly.
I headed to bed almost at midnight. Here's a view from our port hole right before I tucked myself in.
Finally, here's a little video of my first night in the Arctic.
Written sometime in September & posted on 11/18/18
Friday, May 18, dawned bright. After my epic sleep, I was not 100% over my epic headache, but I was ready for our journey to Svalbard.
First, a nod to salmon at breakfast. Amazing.
We made our way over to the airport for our flight to Longyearbyen. Waiting for our flight, I was grateful to meet some of the other passengers. I was wearing my Nat Geo Educator t-shirt as a not-so-subtle way to identify myself which invited connection and conversation throughout my adventure. I will never underestimate the privilege, opportunities, and invitation being a teacher affords.
The flight from Oslo to Longyearbyen takes 2 hours, 55 minutes to traverse 1,269 miles/ 2,042km. I'd been assigned an aisle seat, but after take-off a flight attendant gave me the OK to move to an available window seat. From there, I observed the world below.
9:31am - we crossed the Arctic Circle at 67 degrees North and 34,720 feet in the air.
9:41am - we left the land below, flying over the Norwegian Sea and the beginning of over 2 hours of flight over open water
10:16am - 72 degrees North
10:50am - 76 degrees North
Land came into view not long before we landed. The skies were grey and we could see patches and streaks of snow. The landscape was dramatically different than anything I'd ever seen. We landed a little before noon at the Svalbard Airport in Longyearbyen, the northern most commercial airport in the world.
Ready to begin this amazing exploration of Svalbard!
Written sometime in September & posted on 11/17/18
I was delighted to be in Norway for the first time. It's easy to get caught up in the mindset of not wanting to miss a thing; thus, after arriving and walking over to the hotel across from the airport, I met up with my travel mate, showered, did a bit of unpacking, grabbed a sandwich and we headed out. It was Norwegian Constitution Day, a national holiday, and we'd heard that festivities would be happening downtown. We were eager to take it in before we met up with the group for a tour of Oslo.
We boarded the a crowded train to the national Theater. People of all ages in traditional, formal dress were on the same journey. It was delightful to observe the charming and elegant clothing, rooted in culture, history and tradition.
Off the train, there were so many people! It was a celebration of humanity; a celebration of Norwegians!
We were carried by the crowd toward the parade route to see school children singing and playing instruments with such energy, vitality, and joy. We later learned that this day was considered to be a Children's Day (as opposed to a military day, for example) as the reason to celebrate and honor Norway.
We rode the train back and I power napped for 10 minutes before we boarded the bus for the 2pm tour of Oslo. Here are a few facts we learned along the way:
Finally, we spent a lovely, albeit quick, afternoon at the Vigeland Park where we encountered crowds enjoying the warm and bright day. It all was a lovely welcome to Oslo.
Written sometime in September & posted on 11/17/18
Lesson learned: take care of myself so I don't crash (again.) The past 48 hours were prefaced by the end-of-the-school-year bustle, and while my excitement and joy for this adventure was at a 10 out of 10, my body had slower ambitions that resulted in a crushing migraine that took root during the afternoon tour of Oslo and roared to life at the beginning of the evening's welcome dinner. I excused myself before it got real, headed upstairs and undertook 10 hours of sleep.
Written and posted on November 17, 2018
I don't mind flying. Don't mind it at all, actually. I love being in between Here and There. The flight from Chicago to Frankfurt was not even 8 hours so that didn't leave much time to sleep - what with the couple of meals and beverage service and all-you-can-watch movies at your fingertips. I tried to sleep but by time I was sleepy enough, I was distracted with the views, flying over the north Atlantic, Ireland, and the UK, then onto continental Europe.
The last time I was in the Frankfurt airport was on New Year's Day, 1991, when I was in Germany visiting my high school boyfriend, Florian. At 6am, I could not discern any recognizable features. It was a simple, one-hour layover before I boarded my flight for Oslo.
7:30am in Frankfurt, 11:30pm in Albuquerque. I was now officially sleepy. I slept for much of this easy, direct, not-full flight before waking up to take in my first glimpses of Norway.
From the air, I spotted a large Norwegian flag on a farm house and remembered that May 17 is Norwegian Constitution Day, an official public holiday to celebrate the signing of the Norwegian Constitution in Eidsvoll on May 17, 1814.
It is always, always awesome to arrive somewhere new. Knowing that I was about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime made it all the more exciting and surreal.
I had a whole blog post outlined in my head last week that seemed, at the time, profound and inspirational. Today, I'm not feeling so philosophical. I'm feeling downright giddy (must be the popcorn.) If I wasn't sitting here in Chicago, I might not believe that I'm about to travel to the Arctic and have an incredible experience. Today, I'm just feeling lucky. And grateful. And a bit tired, I have to admit, because the last couple of weeks at school have been crazy-busy, crazy-wonderful, and crazy-white-hair-inducing.
But, mostly I'm grateful. Someone recently told me that I use that word alot. Grateful. (I'm grateful that he knows that I'm grateful.) Gratitude has been a theme, a mantra, throughout my life, and I think it's one of the reasons why I'm sitting here today - a little bleary-eyed, a little smelly (that trek across the airport with a 16 pound backpack and carrying a parka got the blood flowing), very curious, and abundantly grateful.
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."