Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas to all

Christmas at Sea

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor’wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only thing a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But ‘t was only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops’l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So’s we saw the cliff and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every ‘longshore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it’s just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard’s was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother’s silver spectacles, my father’s silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china-plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
“All hands to loose topgallant sails,” I heard the captain call.
“By the lord, she’ll never stand it,” our first mate, Jackson, cried.
…”It’s the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson,” he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good.
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter’s day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

- Robert Louis Stevenson

Although I am not spending Christmas at sea this year, it is one of my very favorite poems, I hope you enjoy it. May I be the very first to wish you and yours a very safe and joyous holiday season!

2007 was an amazing year for me full of many exciting events:

I crossed all the major lines of the sun's annual path at sea this year including the:

- Antarctic Circle (west side of the Antarctic Peninsula)
- Tropic of Capricorn (off the coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean)
- Equator (in the Pacific off the Galapagos and also in the Atlantic)
- Tropic of Cancer (in the Pacific, Gulf of California, and the Atlantic)
- Arctic Circle (to 82 degrees north in Svalbard, northern Atlantic)

I safely crossed the dreaded Drake Passage in the southern ocean 12 times (and only got violently seasick during a few of them!!)

I started and ended the year in Antarctica, surrounded by ice, penguins, and good friends.

I finally got the images of wolves in Yellowstone I have been trying for (soon to be posted here).

I travelled over 25,000 nautical miles via ship this year, and spent over 200 nights at sea.

But mostly I got the privilege to continue to follow a dream I have had since I was a very young man; to be in the field in the presence of the most incredible animals on the planet with people who share my love and passion for wild places.

The latest photos from this year in review will post here soon, I promise!

Happy holidays to all, and to all a good night!

- Michael

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