Seeing Antarctica rise from the sea was like finding a new Garden of Eden created out of snow and ice. A few years ago, about 80 world travelers and I set sail for the Antarctic Peninsula, where we explored its channels and straits in small rubber motor boats, called zodiacs, each with 10 passengers and a driver. An immense white solitude reigned over this uninhabited continent at Earth’s southern edge. Awed by its harsh grandeur, I was also struck by a sense of kinship--as if these mountains and glaciers and blue ice caves were somehow my ancient home. As we hiked the islands’ snowy slopes and rocky ridges, penguins and seals and seabirds often met us. The deep past loomed in volcanic mountains and boulders, while vestiges of whaling stations and ramshackle huts reminded us of the recent past. In the midst of continental ice shelves, the scale of Nature defied our imaginations.
Antarctic Visions resulted from that amazing expedition: a collaboration of poems by Nina Carey Tassi and photos by photographer, friend and fellow passenger, Pat Roach.
Photo credits: Pat Roach
BLUE ICE CAVES
Dare we enter this realm
of strange, formidable ice…
Brilliant blue arches
sculpted deep into glacier walls,
Nature’s secret caverns of ice,
architecture beyond the reach of man.
Have we fallen from the heavens to see this?
Our eyes reject the warm dark
womb of earth, preferring these prisms
of cold blue light, primordial call
to undreamed light beyond.
We stand undiminished,
enraptured but not enveloped.
Is this truly of the earth?
No soil, no gray fields, no concrete roads…
only calm presentation of grandeur.
the sloughing off of muddy earth
to seek the overarching spirit.
Blue ice caves,
bluer than the sky, stay near. . .
we are brought to stand before you: stay!
--from Antarctic Visions (2011)
From a distance, people on a trek single file
Up the snowy mountains look like bright red
And yellow penguins waddling in that characteristic
Awkward way as if not quite adapted to their task.
The penguin before me, perhaps a foot tall, eyes sharp
In bright sun, webbed feet planted, flippers thrust out,
Seems more largely alive in the glare of white ice
Than far-off trekkers, a matter of perspective no doubt.
Here where no trees or houses or concrete highways
Point to the proper direction, a threesome sun themselves,
Regard the passing scene from an elevated rocky shore;
Nearby, humans relax as if they’ve been here all along.
Now and then, here too a solitary soul emerges,
Verges off his snowy highways, leaves his island rookery,
Having failed at mating, wanders the empty beaches,
Not congregating on the rocks, but doing his fellows no harm.
Penguins, they say, have nearly the same size brain,
Proportionate to their bodies, as humans do. Does power
Of mind, then, lift man high above these birds? Maybe so.
But if measured by predation, man far exceeds the penguins.
--from Antarctic Visions (2011)
LIGHT LIFTS THE DARKNESS
Clouds rise from the sea,
creating rings of grey light
around granite mountain peaks.
No bleakness on earth resembles
the cold dark loneliness of Antarctica.
As relentless sleet under a blackened sky
pelts its fury slantwise over the sea,
desolation spreads across the waters
as if eternal night had descended
to sink the spirit of the deep.
Horizons disappear in the tumult,
fog eclipses the whiteness of mountains.
Threatening the darkness,
lightning streaks along the glaciers,
bringing with it exhilaration.
wishes not to surrender,
but the call of the all-powerful sun
exempts no creature from compliance.
Transfigured sky returns to blue,
mirrored in a brilliant sea, its surface
sparkling at a million tiny points.
The grim weight of icy solitude
is overthrown, undone.
So it has gone for billions of years:
the first and the last is light.
-- from Antarctic Visions (2011)