Global Poetry Collaboration

Check out this awesome feature about my collaboration with Canyon Creek Elementary!

I can’t wait to answer their questions about my amazing journey to Antarctica later this week.

I am so thankful for the Canyon Creek Librarian and the 5th grade teachers for making this project possible. I am looking forward to working closely with these students next year when they join me at the middle school – Go Grizzlies!


Booth Island and the Lemaire Channel – Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Today I woke up to the sound of ice crunching and slushing against the hull of the ship. When I opened my porthole I immediately spotted a Crabeater Seal hanging out on the sea ice. As the ship traveled we passed several lounging Crabeater Seals and lots of early morning frolicking penguins out the window before breakfast!

We landed at Booth Island directly south of the Lemaire Channel. My first activity was a Zodiac tour among the ice floes where we saw lots of Crabeater seals sunning themselves on top of the ice.

After touring Port Charcot we hiked to the cairn atop one of the mountains on Booth Island. The cairn was built by some early explorers who overwintered there. The cairn is over 100 years old and looks like it was built much more recently than that. The Island is also home to Chinstrap, Adelie and Gentoo penguin colonies, though today I was most enthralled by the Gentoos as they traveled their “penguin highways” between their rookeries and the sea. The majority of these penguins still had eggs in their nests since we are much further south today than our previous penguin colony visits. Since we are further south, the snow and ice melt much later so the penguins start their breeding season a bit later, thus their eggs/chicks are younger than those in colonies further north.

After lunch we ventured away from Antarctica a bit as National Geographic photographer Ken Garrett presented his current project about the ongoing search for Nefertiti. Ken has visited King Tut’s tomb numerous times and has taken several important photographs of Tut’s gilded death mask. Today Ken shared his experience with the search for the tomb of Nefertiti – and it is expected to be behind King Tut’s tomb. This was a nice break from the sensory overload of Antarctica and I am now on the hunt for Ken’s previous work with National Geographic. He’s heading out to photograph the next stage of the Nefertiti investigation later this month so keep an eye out for the finished product.

This afternoon, the Explorer ventured further south than she has been this season. The ice prevented us from landing at our original destination (a Ukrainian base) but we were able to travel the beautiful Lemaire Channel where we saw lots of Crabeater seals and even the elusive, and carnivorous, Leopard seal.

We then headed into the Lounge for another enlightening recap session with a presentation from Zach about the expedition through the dark Antarctic winter in search of an Emperor penguin egg as well as a presentation about the habits and traits of the Emperor penguin from Deirdre. Of course, these presentations were inspired by the rare Emperor penguin sighting yesterday. Paul also shared his dive footage from the shipwreck at Enterprise Island yesterday as we were kayaking (check out his Meet the Ocean podcast). The underwater world is a rainbow of interesting creatures. There were sponges, sea stars, anemones, and sea worms in addition to the shell and propeller of the 100 year old shipwreck. He also pointed out some whale bones as this was one of the last whaling vessels in the area.

The evening concluded with a lovely dinner conversation with a few of the guests and Steve, our photography instructor. We are now heading to Neko Harbor for another early start tomorrow morning.

*Note: This post was written while I was on my expedition, but was not posted until after my return so that I could include pictures and videos. Thanks for following my amazing journey!

Cierva Cove and Enterprise Islands, Antarctica – Monday, January 2, 2017

This morning began with an early disembarkation as we enjoyed a scenic Zodiac tour of Cierva Cove. Our trip began with a rocky start since our Zodiac engine died about 500 yards from the ship. No need to worry, Paul was our driver and he quickly radioed the ship for assistance. We were transferred to a new Zodiac with Steven almost immediately and went on our way.  During the tour we saw a number of sea birds, Primavera Station (Argentina) and some enormous ice bergs. We also saw a few Gentoo Penguins who make their home in the cove. It was a sunny morning and the water was crystal clear.

Once our tour was complete, we hopped back into a different Zodiac with Paul, Maartje, and Peter for a special GTF plankton tow. We felt very special since the second round of guests were taking their Zodiac tours and we were scheduled to cruise the bay in the Explorer – but we got to head out for a bit of science instead. Unfortunately we didn’t pick up too many critters during the tow due to the particularly clear water. We did have a lot of fun visiting with the crew and learning about cold water diving from Paul and Peter.

Just before lunch our mentor Eduardo gave a presentation on Shackleton and his legendary expedition. Shackelton’s leadership skills were unparalleled and the story of the Endurance is one not to be missed. Expect Alfred Lansing’s Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage to be on some “must read” lists from me.

Lunch brought a surprise in the form of Humpback Whale sightings galore. Not bad entertainment. I expect we saw more than 50 Humpback Whales today… it was spectacular.

After lunch we had to report to our kayak briefing in the Lounge. I am not sure the audience was very attentive considering the numerous Humpbacks surfacing quite close to the ship. At one point I think we had 10-12 in our sightline. There seemed to be at least one who was viewable at all times. It was AWESOME.

Kayaking near the Enterprise Islands was awesome as well. During my first journey Jeanna and I managed to break our rudder so it was a bit tedious steering our kayak back to the ship. Luckily one of the rescue Zodiacs came to our aid and disconnected the rudder so we could navigate more easily (we were stuck turning left and it was incredibly difficult to make any progress). We saw the shipwrecked Governoren, a whaling ship that caught fire in 1915, that is in surprisingly good condition for its age. The ship’s shell is now home to Antarctic Terns. As we kayaked around the exposed portion, the sunken half was visible beneath the crystal clear water; this gave an eerie feeling to the cove as the glacier calved along the shoreline causing several small avalanches.

I never would have expected to enjoy kayaking in Antarctic water, but our 35 degree (ish) day was perfect for it. I was never cold and had a marvelous time. When we returned to the ship Maartje asked if I would be willing to kayak again with a guest who needed a partner. I was happy to oblige and this time saw a Crabeater seal sunning on a rock in addition to the wreck and a variety of ice bergs.

After our kayaking journey it was time for the Polar Plunge. Since the plunge occurs from the kayaking launch platform it made sense to do it today. The calm seas in the cove offered a nice venue for yet another adventure. Yes, I did the Polar Plunge! It was SOOOOOOOOOO cold! I survived and was very thankful for the warm towels, hot blueberry juice (and more) as I returned to the ship.

Andy, a whale scientist from Alaska, gave us some information about Killer Whales during our recap and then we were on our way to dinner.

Dinner brought more Humpback Whale sightings out the dining room window. There were so many whales nearby that Sue, our expedition leader, cancelled the evening hike planned on Danco Island and we just enjoyed the whales and the ship breaking through the ice flows. And speaking of the ice flows, it was shortly after dinner that a lone Emperor Penguin was spotted. Emperor Penguins are extremely uncommon on the Antarctic Peninsula so it was a real treat to see it. As I stood on the bow of the ship I could see the Emperor Penguin to my right and another 5-6 whales regularly surfacing on the left – again, pure Antarctic magic as our evening entertainment.

I think I watched the whales for more than an hour from the bow before the snow started. First gently, then more intensely the weather turned a bit more blustery than it has been over the past few days. It’s funny, because I am not at all bothered by the cold here. The landscape and all of its surprises far surpass any chill – and when the chill does come, the view makes it worth a few extra minutes outside. The bow is by far the best place to view the sea life and so if you want to have the best viewing, you have to put in your time in the cold, snow and wind (though tonight is really the most noticeable of that we have had thus far). Your patience will almost always be rewarded.

Tonight’s show offered 4-5 Humpback Whales surfacing regularly right near the bow. Their blows were audible and even predictable due to our close proximity. Much of this is due to our Captain’s skill and willingness to take us to the prime location. As the snow got heavier, we approached a group of whales who were bubble feeding. Their wide mouths were visible as they lunged along the surface enjoying krill. It was beyond words – but alas, everything here is beyond words.

Tomorrow brings another full day of adventure. For now, I must sleep – though it is 11:30 p.m and I can still see clearly out my window. The sun has officially set, but there is no dark.

I love this place. I absolutely love this place.

I am so thankful for the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship, for without it I would have missed the most exciting, magical, mesmerizing place in the world. I am forever changed by this place. Forever indebted to this place for opening my eyes to a world I could not have imagined – but it is real, and it is beautiful.

*Note: This post was written while I was on my expedition, but was not posted until after my return so that I could include pictures and videos. Thanks for following my amazing journey!

Brown Bluff, Antarctica; Exploring the Weddell Sea; Tabular Icebergs in the Antarctic Sound – Sunday, January 1, 2017

The morning began with a hearty breakfast and then a zodiac tour of the area around Brown Bluff. Steve Wilkins, our zodiac driver (and Australian naturalist), did an excellent job showing us the adorable Adelie Penguins lounging and frolicking on the sea ice among the crystal blue icebergs. The sea was like glass and the sky a sparkling blue. The weather was so lovely that the crew made an announcement to warn us against over-dressing for our trip to shore; the warm sun and calm wind made for a toasty Antarctic day. Even I was able to spend much of my shore time without gloves.

Steve dropped us off on the beach of Brown Bluff around 11:00 a.m. and we took our first steps on the White Continent. The Adelie Penguins waddled, hopped, and curiously (but not especially cautiously) observed us as we crossed the beach for a short hike up a glacier. Conor informed us that this glacier moves about 2 meters per year and is one of the most stable glaciers in Antarctica. It is the only glacier we will visit that is safe enough to climb due to the danger of crevasses. While hiking up the glacier, we saw a small (though in reality it was probably quite large) avalanche as a piece of ice broke free from the Brown Bluff (a tall tower of volcanic deposits). The crack of the ice was like rifle shots and piles of ice rushed down the side of the bluff. We were well out of harm’s way and enjoyed yet another brilliant Antarctic show.

Yes, this place is fierce and beautiful. Everything you have seen or heard about it is true, and yet doesn’t begin to describe the majesty. It has inspired me, thrilled me, enlightened me and challenged me like nothing else – and we are still at the beginning of our exploration.

Sue, our expedition leader, extended our shore time since the day was especially lovely. According to our naturalists, the weather near Brown Bluff is often windy and cold with poor visibility so we were especially blessed on our visit today. From there we headed back to the boat for lunch and some cruising into the Weddell Sea.

Most of the Weddell Sea is covered in sea ice, even at the height of summer, so our Captain took us into the sea just a bit to give us an idea of the beauty of the ice floes. It was a rainbow of blue and white. The sea is brimming with wildlife. Here we saw a number of Weddell Seals lounging on the ice floes, more penguins frolicking in the icy water and tobogganing along the ice floes, and the grand prize: a pod of Type B Orcas (Killer Whales). The ship cracked through several large ice floes along the way, giving us a glimpse of her ice breaking power. As she plowed through the floes, we shook with the force while the ice cracked below – a cacophony of water, metal and power. Along the way our naturalists spotted the Orcas and our Captain gently followed their path with the hope of getting a better look. For most of our journey the pod was in the distance, so we were only able to glimpse a dorsal fin on occasion, but as they were seemingly waving goodbye to the Explorer, they passed right in front of the bow and along the side, giving us a full view.

The days in Antarctica are long and full and I think the staff of the Explorer intend to send us all home exhausted – happy, but exhausted. Since the day was so lovely and since we were all celebrating the adventurous start of 2017 our galley crew threw us a tea time barbeque on the Aft Deck. The Captain parked the ship in a large ice floe and we all headed Aft for some tailgating. We had Argentinian chorizo BBQ on the Aft deck in the sun!

I spent the rest of the afternoon in the ship’s Library, watching the icebergs and ice floes of the Weddell Sea as we headed back to the Antarctic Sound. We enjoyed a brief recap session where Paul North, our onboard undersea specialist, taught us about the cloning creatures and various other tiny underwater organisms that live in these frigid waters and his dive partner, Peter Webster, shared his experiences diving year round in Antarctica. BRRR! For those of you who are interested, there is a shortage of cold water divers…

Paul also joined Jeanna, Sara, and me for dinner this evening to discuss his duties as an undersea specialist as well as his podcast, Meet the Ocean. I learned so much from him and hope to keep in touch for future projects.

As the day wound down (though it never really winds down since the sun is still shining brightly out my porthole even though it is 10:30 p.m.) we cruised back through the Antarctic sound, where there is a plethora of spectacular tabular icebergs. At one point the Captain parked us right in front of the most magnificent, and enormous, piece of ice. Its size and beauty were beyond comprehension. Three days in Antarctica and I am fresh out of adjectives. There really are not enough words to accurately describe this place. It has stolen a piece of my soul.

Alas, it is time for bed. Tomorrow’s schedule is bursting with even more of this magnificent place. Must rest – plankton drag with Paul at 8:00 a.m. and then perhaps kayaking!

*Note: This post was written while I was on my expedition, but was not posted until after my return so that I could include pictures and videos. Thanks for following my amazing journey!

Barrientos, South Shetland Islands – Saturday, December 31, 2016

The day began with a plethora of whale sightings from the bridge, shortly after breakfast. Most of these were a brief view of spray as the whales surfaced, followed by a possible glimpse of the pectoral fin. The naturalists on board identified them as smaller Fin Whales. After mastering the art of spotting the whale blows on the horizon, the captain noticed some blows off in the distance, between the ship and a few icebergs.

As we approached the new whale sighting, it became apparent (to the naturalists) that these were not Fin Whales, but Humpback Whales. We watched them for nearly an hour, as they slowly came closer to the boat. At one point, the whales dived and Connor (our naturalist from Ireland) casually said “Ok, who wants to bet where they surface?” The guests made a few jokes about how the whales should surface on this side or that, in front of me, etc. when suddenly I was startled by the whale blow – right next to the boat – right in front of ME – right in front of the railing where I was standing. The moment was pure magic. I was able to see both whales clearly as they surfaced multiple times, putting on an amazing show as they waved hello to our vessel.

From the magnificent Humpback whale sighting, we headed inside to the Lounge for our mandatory information session about the rules of Antarctica and IAATO. Next it was time to decontaminate. This process is very important to ensure that no new diseases or seeds, etc. are introduced to Antarctica.

Once our gear was decontaminated and ready for the trip to shore, we ventured back up to the Lounge for our Penguin Information Session from Deirdre. We learned about the Chinstrap, Gentoo, and Adelie Penguins and their habits in preparation for our landing on Barrientos, South Shetland Islands that afternoon.

Lunch was quick as we had already dropped anchor at Barrientos and were eagerly awaiting our departure for land (and penguins)!

On the island we saw to sizeable colonies of Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguins. There were adorable baby penguins everywhere, along with the menacing Brown Skua. At one point we watched the evil bird snatch an egg and enjoy its contents. I realize it’s just the way of predator/prey relationships, but I am not sure I was prepared for the harsh reality of nature. On the far side of the island we also saw a female Northern Elephant Seal relaxing in the sun. While we were warned that it is often easy to mistake a seal for a rock, I didn’t really think it was possible – but this seal looked very much like a rock. She was still and had covered herself with the black sand of the beach, camouflaging perfectly.

This evening we learned some more about the oceanography of Antarctica as well as receiving a few photo tips from Steve, our photography instructor. We enjoyed steak and lobster for New Year’s Eve dinner and then gathered in the Lounge yet again, this time for a movie. We were introduced to the German classic, Dinner for One, which is actually a British play that was aired in Germany shortly after World War II.  Apparently it is a Christmas Eve (and New Year’s Eve) tradition to view this film in Germany, with several networks airing it nonstop on Christmas Eve. The captain informed us that it was scheduled to air 16 times across Western European television today and is very well known, despite having little or no recognition in the UK. It’s a fun, slapstick comedy that is worth the 20 minute viewing time, especially when you know the story behind the tradition.

Though I was getting weary at this point, I wandered out the Lounge door en route to the Bridge when I saw the most enormous tabular iceberg. We had arrived at our New Year’s destination – there were icebergs everywhere with enormous tabular icebergs on the horizon. The sun was setting (yes, at 10:30 p.m.) and even now at 1:00 a.m. it’s plenty light outside.

Time for bed – and I just peeked out our porthole to see a large block of sea ice with a lone Gentoo penguin walking across it.  This place truly is magical.

Welcome to 2017.

*Note: This post was written while I was on my expedition, but was not posted until after my return so that I could include pictures and videos. Thanks for following my amazing journey!

The Drake Passage – Friday, December 30, 2016

Here’s a recap of my first full day on board the National Geographic Explorer.

After a delicious breakfast, the fellows enjoyed an informative tour of the ship with our mentor, Eduardo Shaw. He told us that we can go ANYWHERE on the ship! The Bow is my favorite place for wildlife viewing.

Following our tour, we headed to the lounge for our official introduction to the guests. I am also on the official staff board! It was very cool to see my picture and bio on the staff wall. Wow. I cannot believe I am actually here – it is an honor.


Next it was time for a Bird Watching Talk with naturalist, Conor Ryan– I am very impressed with the resumes of our naturalists. Conor, who is originally from Ireland, gave us a wonderful lesson about identifying the various birds. The top three (which we saw some example of today) were the Albatross, the Petrel and the Sheathbill. He made it very clear that we should be able to identify these three by the end of our expedition.


Since we were crossing the Drake Passage, it was an excellent opportunity to view some of these birds from the Aft Deck. We saw lots of sea birds gliding along behind the ship.  We saw the Wandering Albatross and the Great Petrel here, and thanks to Pete and Eduardo’s help I was able to identify them (OK, Pete and Eduardo identified them).







The staff keeps things moving on the sea day and my next stop was the Young Explorers Meeting with Conor. Conor has some neat activities planned for the kids on board and I think he might let the teachers tag along (fingers crossed). An interesting note – I have seen several people (grownups and teens) reading on Kindles throughout the day, but I haven’t seen ANYONE mindlessly working/playing on their phone or tablet. None. It  is very refreshing to see everyone engaged with the natural world around them and engaged in the lessons/tips/lectures offered to enhance the experience.

After our meeting with the kids, I took some time for quiet reflection on the bridge (with a brief stay in the Library). Lucky too – I caught a glimpse of the Beak Nosed Whales here (just barely – they looked like dolphins).


Library and Bridge Time – After lunch I took some more time to reflect on the vastness of the ocean and to enjoy a quiet cup of hot cocoa in the Library. No wildlife spotting, but it is a lovely place to watch the Drake Passage.


Afternoon Camera Lesson with Steve Morello – Thanks to Steve’s tips, I hope to have some better photo skills. I will give it a try tomorrow so we shall see…

Our afternoon highlight was Alex Kumar’s Presentation about his experience Overwintering in Antarctica.  Alex is an amazing human being. His dedication to his profession is astounding and he is a remarkable person. I cannot even comprehend many of the things he has done, and yet he seems so normal. Just a regular guy – but his is no regular story. He works in some of the most difficult places in the world studying (and combating) outbreak viruses (Ebola, Zika) in addition to the year he spent in Antarctica conducting research for the European Space Agency.

The full day concluded with a wonderful dinner with our mentor, Eduardo – Eduardo is such a kind, knowledgeable and caring man. This evening at dinner I learned so much about Argentina, Argentinian schools, culture, and politics and South American political history in general. Eduardo is also a wealth of information about the history of Antarctica. I look forward to learning more from him as the trip continues.

So, so tired so off to bed for an early start (with ice!) tomorrow morning.

Wildlife Sightings –

Beak-Nosed Whale (species unclear)

Rockhopper Penguins (swimming in the Drake!)

Wandering Albatross

Blue Petrel

Great Winged Petrel

Snowy Sheathbill

*Note: This post was written while I was on my expedition, but was not posted until after my return so that I could include pictures and videos. Thanks for following my amazing journey!

Ushuaia – Thursday, December 29, 2016

Today began with a 5:45 am wake-up call at our hotel in Buenos Aires. We enjoyed breakfast at the hotel before taking a short bus ride to the Jorge Newbery airport. The airport sits along the Rio de la Plata – which serves as a border between Argentina (Buenos Aires) and Uruguay – it’s actually two rivers which converge (at the mouth the river is nearly 140 miles wide).

We also saw another side of Buenos Aires as we drove along the highway to Jorge Newbery airport as we passed large shanty towns. They are tall structures with makeshift walls and rain buckets along the rooftops. The towns appear to have power as many of the homes did have air conditioner units on the side – though it was an extremely poor part of town.

Our charter flight to Ushuaia was about 3 hours in duration, but there were clouds below so there wasn’t much opportunity to view Patagonia from the airplane windows. We took a bus from the Ushuaia airport to the Tierra del Fuego National Park where we boarded our catamaran for a cruise along the Beagle Channel. On the cruise we caught our first glimpse of the seabirds that would follow us across the Drake Passage.



Tierra del Fuego may be the most beautiful place on Earth. With the crisp air, hazy fog drifting in and around the mountains against the lush green forest background, the view is majestic and awe inspiring. This is a place I want to visit again.

dscn8002-aAs the catamaran pulled into the port of Ushuaia, we saw our ship, the National Geographic Explorer, waiting for us. We were welcomed aboard our home for the next 10 days and settled in to room B-209. We are staying on the staff level of the ship, next door to the naturalists, divers, and expedition leaders. We are also near the mud room which is where the kayaks and zodiacs will depart when we land in Antarctica. It’s a convenient place – though the ship is sized just right, all of the common areas are easily accessible.

My Antarctic expedition parka was waiting for me on my bed. It’s gorgeous and SO warm. I am going to treasure it dearly for the rest of my life.

dscn8005First order of business aboard any ship is safety so we all met in the lounge for a safety drill donning our life jackets. While we don’t expect to use the life boats on this trip, it is reassuring to know that they are ready for us should the need arise. They are also enclosed and contain enough food/water for 3 days (for 60 people) – again, I pray they are not necessary, but they will offer some protection against the icy Antarctic wind and it is comforting to see them standing by as we travel about the ship.


Jeanna, Sara and I took some time to learn about the ship and how to navigate to the Chart Room (where there drinks/snacks are always available and the view is superb – just below the Bridge), the Bridge (the Explorer has an open bridge policy so we are welcome to visit any time – it is so interesting to observe the tools and machinery in action as the captain and crew safely navigate our ship and the Wellness Deck. We also figured out how to get out on the Bow which is said to be a prime wildlife viewing area if you’re willing to brave the winds.

dscn8028The evening dinner was buffet style in the ship restaurant. Delicious and plentiful. I can already tell I may need to do some shopping when I return – I am going to eat a lot on this trip!

After dinner I set out on a mission to find and enjoy the ship’s Library. I grabbed a cup of hot chocolate at the Bistro and settled in to a comfy Library chair to observe the view as we travelled along the Beagle Channel. Just as I was getting settled, Sue Perrin, our expedition leader, made an announcement that there was a Sei whale off the Port Bow. Since I was already at the front of the ship, I quickly jumped up and headed outside into the brisk evening air. As I arrived at the ships rail, just outside the Bridge, I saw the whale – my first whale. It’s the first day onboard and I have seen more than most see in a lifetime. I am so excited about what the coming days will bring.


Tomorrow morning our mentor Eduardo has promised a personal tour of the Explorer – looking forward to learning about what he and the other naturalists have to share to enhance this experience.

It’s time for bed, and the Explorer is rocking me to sleep as we begin our journey across the Drake Passage. Though the seas aren’t expected to be rough per se, Sue warned us that we will certainly feel them. I am armed with my seasick medication to make sure the passage goes smoothly and cannot wait for another exciting day tomorrow. Tonight is our last night of real dark so I need to take advantage of it – tomorrow we will be in 18 + hours of sunlight with no “true” dark night.

Sleep tight.

*Note: This post was written while I was on my expedition, but was not posted until after my return so that I could include pictures and videos. Thanks for following my amazing journey!