The days of the “lasts”

As the end of the project draws closer I realized that as we are flying North, I am saying good-bye to many things for the last time. Well, maybe not as dramatic as that but for the last time in the foreseeable future.

It was the last time in several years at best that I had a chance to walk through Willowbank in Christchurch, and the silly wallabies knew that and bounced right up to me and sat almost in my lap, sniffed at my photo pack and took leaves that I brought for them out of my hands. Their dreamy eyes with lashes that would make any supermodel envious looked at me as the silly things made faces, and I said good-bye to them as I walked out of their secure little world.

The farm animals and peacocks were all there and walked along my side as if knowing I am leaving. Even an eel bit me on the finger when I unwittingly stuck my hand in the water while feeding them, which had never happened before. The otters all ran up front, making their squeaky noises, and all plopped down all of a sudden, as if their tires just deflated. And the next moment, just as suddenly, they got up and ran off again on their otter business, looking back at me every five seconds, as if inviting me to come along or at least stay.

The kiwis were out of hiding, walking around in the dark, peeping and purring, sometimes scared of something and running for 10 feet, just to calm down instantly and stick their nose in the dirt, smelling for a worm. They were there for me every time, and they were there this last time too. I waved good-bye to them and forced myself to go.

It was the last time in Rarotonga, too. Who knows when, and even if, we ever are going to visit Cook Islands again. We have no project in the next years that I know of that plans to go in that direction. The ocean calmed down since our last visit and the smooth surface of the lagoon behind the reef brake was glass-like and shallow, not indicative one bit of the churning and intimidating mass of dark water that we have seen there just 10 days ago. And again, I waved good-bye to the island, the friends I made there and the slow flowing life of it, the way it has been forever and of which I was allowed to become a short term participant.

Kona. Another “last”, for a long time now. Again, we have no plans to go back soon that I know of. The folks of Air Service Hawaii are on the first name basis with all of us by now. I am saying good bye to them too. Mahalo! Stay well. I hope to see you all again some time.

Anchorage, and the Arctic. Today was the last Polar flight, the last time we flew at 500 feet over the Arctic ocean, and it was as calm as ocean can ever be. One might have thought we were in the tropics, except the color of the water was not deep blue but lead gray and the clouds were not the puffy cumulus but little patchy clouds or fog, hugging to the surface all the way down. But no whitecaps, no waves, just scattered ice everywhere, soon replaced by solid, somewhat cracked ice shields. At 500 feet altitude, 87°N we turned back – another “last”. Who knows when, if ever, we might do something like this again.

We flew past Mt. McKinley one last time, the summit having a bit of a cloud clinging to it. Good bye! I hope to see you again, the Great One.

Tomorrow there will be our last flight of the Global Project. Another last… We are all tired and worn out, and want to go home and leave the vibration of the plane, which by now lives inside our bones, behind… then why am I feeling this quiet regret that it is almost over?.. Why is it that tears roll up in my eyes when I am leaving, maybe for the last time, the places we have visited?.. Did I leave a larger piece of my soul attached to them than I thought?..

I think I am beginning to understand what called the great Captains of the past, like James Cook, to leave the home harbor over and over again…

P. S. I have a couple more articles in drafts that will be added in the next few days that are about the return part of our unprecedented journey. They will pre-date this one; if you are interested, come back and I should have them ready for you.

Alaska and the Arctic – September

In September the fall is coming to Alaska. The weather has cooled down and the unmistakable smell of the fall is in the air. All of the folks we were talking with at the Anchorage FAA facility either are hunting, or have been hunting, some successful and some are not.

My friends at the airport have gone already. One of them brought home a freezer full of moose meat, and for the asking provided me with three packs of freshly frozen moose liver. Have you tried moose liver fried with onions? If not, I recommend that you do. Tender and soft, with paté-like texture and mild flavor, moose liver is the best I have tried. I much prefer it to elk, bovine, deer or caribou even though deer liver is very soft and tender with its own flavor, especially if you are lucky enough to hunt in a clean enough area to dare to try it raw with salt. For the fried moose liver just make sure you don’t over-fry it, once you have it on the hot pan, cut in strips, with caramelized onions mixed in.

Cold nights and crisp mornings leave the undeniable aroma in the air that is so familiar to all people who ever had a calling for the outdoors. It grabs you by the nose stronger than a pair of pliers, and pulls from the office, from the city into the hills where the freshly fallen autumn leaves await to cushion your careful step.

Just go out and smell the fall. It is the best thing ever. I promise, nobody will notice if you ever get a tear in your eye from the crisp autumn wind.

Early spring in New Zealand

Christchurch met us with overcast skies and a bit of a drizzle. The temperature was a comfortable 10°C, and most people meeting us at the Operation Deep Freeze, the NSF Office of Polar Programs part of the Christchurch airfield, were noticeably shivering. The OPP folks were as nice and helpful as ever, and we have been provided every bit of assistance we might have wished for. In short order we were finished at the airplane and retired to the hotel, the Commodore this time, where nice rooms and a cold tasty Speights Gold sealed the success of the day.

Christchurch is still under the shade of the earthquakes. Even during our stay there was another “small” quake of some 5 magnitude, and the downtown area is still fenced off and inaccessible. Most tourist oriented places are closed, some forever, and there is no immediately evident places where a visitor could go to browse. The Antarctic Center was open and is still a great attraction, and I would recommend it to everyone who happens to be in Christchurch. Even as pricey as it is (at $65 NZ for an adult), it is worth visiting at least once. I visited it in 2009 when we went for the first time, and the thing I liked the most was the penguins. I could spend hours watching these cute, neat creatures.

Curious wallaby
Curious wallaby

I had to visit Willowbank again. This place was as peaceful and quiet as always, and I spent several hours visiting with the wallabies and kiwis. The wallabies in particular were friendlier than ever, coming right up to you where you can touch their soft, fuzzy necks and ears. They particularly liked the few green leaves that I could reach for them, which were too high off the ground for them to reach themselves.

Otter
Otter

The otters were out playing. There were three of them in their pond area, and they were playing and running around. For some reason, all three stick together, and making chirping noises, they would all of a sudden decide to run left. Then, instantly, they would all drop down and lay in the grass for a minute, just to get up and run, waddling, through the grass. I think they are the silliest otters ever, although all otters are great fun to watch.

In a few short days it was the time for us to head North again. We are leaving this wonderful land for the last time on this project. Who knows when, or if, will we be coming back. Thank you New Zealand for the wonderful time we had here!