It’s been almost a week since I returned from Antarctica, and I think that this week has given me some time to process what was one of the most incredible journeys I’ll ever take. In some ways, it seems like Antarctica belongs to a dream world, totally separate from the world where I drive a car and work in an office. It seems so far away from the traffic, the buildings, and the streets that I see on a daily basis, but I know that it’s real. When someone asked me this week where I had been and I told him, he jokingly asked, “So it’s a real place? There’s actually something down there at the bottom of the world?” Yes, Antarctica is a very real place. Yes, there are quite a lot of things at the bottom of the world. We all know this to be true, but experiencing it puts it in a very new light.
Antarctica may be even more real than the world most of us live in. The cities and towns we call home, the important places on the map are the ones that humans have made. We’ve created our own homes. We’ve created these dots we call cities and these all-important lines we call borders. They seem so concrete and real, but cities have importance because we’ve given it. Borders are imaginary lines in the sand we’ve created. In Antarctica, the imaginary lines lose their meaning, and the dots simply don’t exist. There are only mountains, glaciers, islands, straits, bays, and peninsulas. It’s a world we have not made. The penguins come to their breeding grounds. The whales patrol their favorite waters. The sea birds roam the globe, and it all goes on all the time whether we’re there to see it or not.
Here at home, I returned to my office to find the sounds of heavy equipment running and trees shaking and falling by the hundreds as a road crew clears room for a widening highway. The wheels of industry turn, and progress goes on back here in our artificial world. It pains me to watch this happen, but I know that by driving on this highway every day to go to work, I’ve spurred it on.
I don’t have a solution or some eloquent resolution. I only know that everyone I know who has been to Antarctica and experienced really wild places knows that we need them. None of us may be able to tell you precisely why, but we all know the wilds are precious and that there’s something there that calls us back.