Last block I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Antarctica as part of Quest’s Quest for Antarctica class. In this class we explored the most southern continent and its relationship to humanity. In order to gain a fuller understanding of this unique region of the globe we looked at it from many different angles including biology, climatology, story, history, politics, art, and even philosophy. I spent a lot of time thinking about the ethics of my interaction with Antarctica, and on how my experience there has changed me. I want to share some of it with you, in the hopes that I convey a sense of how immersive this experience was for me, and how it affected me.
Forgive me for my unorthodox approach, but I believe that one of the best ways in which I may convey this reflection is through a poem I wrote while in Antarctica.
Crystal maiden of white and gray,
you took me in, gentle and rough,
and made me love you.
Through the long and twilight austral day
I saw your wonders, from Spert Island to Brown Bluff,
and knew that I would have to come back for you.
They say the pen is mightier than the sword,
but I wish to use both to defend your wilderness
against those who would seek to destroy you.
As the sea leopard chases down prey, your shored
mountains I would have remain yours, empress
of the south, and I would chase those who would wrench them from you.
And, yet, I hesitate, for the name of love
has justified many horrid things; love of money
and love of pride have already scarred you.
Would my violence be justified to shove
those away from your bright sunny
lands, those who would seek to defile you?
I do not know.
I hope that this gives you a sense of how this class made me challenge my own views and assumptions about things, and how the class inspired me to do some deep reflection and art. I want to share a few other excerpts from pieces that I wrote while I was actually there. I could of course tell you about it from my perspective now, but I think that it is important to use work that I generated while actually on site; it is probably more truthful as to how I was feeling.
Here is an excerpt from one of my final reflections, about how Antarctica allowed me to reflect on the relationship between emotion and reason.
I look out the window of the bar and spot an iceberg. It is a small one, twisted into an unusual way by the physics of water and ice, of wind and weather. Motion made still, sublime. I feel my heart grow strong in my chest as it beats a little more enthusiastically, an emotional response to the beauty of the object. This is a private moment. No one can feel exactly the way I feel in response to the iceberg, and, even if one could, our inner experiences would still remain unknown to each other. Art is the form of communication that seeks to transcend this limit, and, although I believe it ultimately fails to capture the exact nature of my experience and give it to another, it is the best way we have.
Another iceberg glides by. This one’s top is curved, striking geometry captured in a physical object. It makes me wonder how it got that way, how ice crystals form, why water molecules work the way they do, if the ice has any purpose in the larger ecosystem. My curiosity is peaked, and I can use the tools of Reason to probe into these questions, ultimately leading me to the Truth of the matter. I believe that the world we experience is bound by Reason, and through Reason I can understand the iceberg. I can communicate this understanding to other beings using rationale discourse, and we can come to an agreement.
I see another iceberg. This one looks almost like it is two, but it is really connected underneath the surface. Its aesthetic is delightful, and it is almost as if Providence has provided for me the perfect metaphor with which I may capture the ideas and themes of these initial musings. Reason and Emotion, though often pitted against each other in the popular conception, can coexist in the same object, in the same world. I cannot understand how the ice crystals form through Pure Emotion, yet I also cannot appreciate the beauty of the aggregate through Pure Reason. Each has its domain, but they are not at war. They are two halves of the human experience; like the iceberg, although Reason and Emotion can appear as disconnected from each other, this is superficial. They are intimately tied together, connected under the surface.
This is the kind of development that can happen in Quest classes. I find quite often that the intellectual development is complemented by a more emotional development, as we better learn about the subject, and about ourselves. I hope that these two excerpts from my time in Antarctica give you a sense of how valuable this experience was for me. I want to end this blog post with the last thing I wrote in Antarctica, as I think it sums up my experience well.
Antarctica has made me both oftener and more steadily reflect on the universe around me, and the one within.
For that, I am eternally grateful.