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Cynthia Hopkins on the coming Voyage

Today is Saturday September 4th, 2010. I’m sitting in a park in Williamsburg Brooklyn and trees are swaying in a heavenly breeze, the humidity that oppressed New York the past few days having miraculously swept away over night. I’ve just made a list of items I need to pack for the Arctic journey based on a previous list which was itself based on a previous list; before that I purchased 2 packs of Dramamine nausea-prevention pills, 2 sets of ‘sea band’ nausea-prevention acupressure bracelets, a box of anti-jet-lag pills, and a variety of chocolate-covered snacks. I’d previously acquired two separate prescription strength medications – one for motion sickness, one for nausea – as well as water and cold proof clothing for my entire body. I’d also learned how to tie basic sailing knots like the bowline and the clove hitch and have been practicing them every day: I’m doing everything I can do to PREPARE.

And yet, the other night (just after I’d learned the sailing knots, feeling proud of myself for learning something new, and gaining confidence in my ability to function on a sailing vessel) I watched a film documenting the first three Cape Farewell expeditions, the first shot of which shows the Noorderlicht being tossed violently on enormous waves, woozy passengers clutching railings as the ship’s deck tilts nearly vertical and water crashes over the side… and I began to be seized by PANIC.

The truth is I am TERRIFIED (and equally exhilarated) in anticipation of this journey into the unknown: I’ve never been on a boat for longer than a couple of hours. In spite of the fact that my father served in the Navy for many years and taught sailing for many more, he never taught me a damn thing about it and as a result, I do not know how to sail. I’m afraid of nausea and I suffer from an irrational fear of vomiting, which may have something to do with the fact that I am a CONTROL FREAK. Most terrifying of all is the prospect of being trapped on a tiny vessel with a group of strangers for twenty-two days in a row, as I suffer from social anxiety so extreme that dinner dates with close friends are a challenge.

In spite of all these terrors, in fact partially BECAUSE of these terrors, I feel ridiculously lucky to have been invited on this journey and I am yearning to go because:

– The more a prospect terrifies me, the more thrilling, educational, and generally rewarding the experience tends to be

– I find the natural world awe-inspiring and simultaneously extremely comforting, so I’m tantalized by the prospect of traveling to such a remote and uninhabited realm

– I am as fascinated as I am disturbed by climate change and I want to understand it as fully as I am able, for the sake of my own curiosity and also to enhance my ability to be of service to the sustainability of human civilization

The truth is I don’t fully understand the monumental crisis we all face nor how best to extend and preserve the paradise of this clement world in which we’re all so blessed to dwell nor how best to be of service – perhaps as some sort of bizarre translator or conduit for scientific information critical to our survival yet challenging to fathom? – so I’m hoping this journey might help answer these questions, or more likely replace them with totally new ones I can’t at present imagine.

Because although I don’t fully understand the climate crisis, I am beginning to grasp the mortality of our currently hospitable biosphere and the inter-related mortality of our human species, and I’m beginning to be possessed by a yearning to understand both the enormity and complexity of the climate problem as well as the thrilling possibilities for its solutions, and I’m beginning to be obsessed with the search for a way to be of service, to serve as a translator or conduit of information in whatever way that might be possible for me with my little voice and arms and legs to dance and sing the information into the hearts and minds of fellow members of my endangered species.

So although I’m TERRIFIED of sea sickness, injury, death, humiliation resulting from ignorance of sailing, and social awkwardness, I accepted without hesitation the invitation to join the Cape Farewell expedition because I am possessed by this yearning to better comprehend the climate crisis, and I am equally possessed by a love of places devoid of humans and most especially places presenting the illusion of being unspoiled by human civilization.

My goals for the journey are simple:

– Try not to panic

– Take lots of footage

– Record lots of sounds

– Be of service

– Learn as much as possible

Yet there is one more private hope I have for this journey: in a situation where almost everything will be so obviously beyond my control, perhaps my insane desire to control EVERYTHING will be at long last obliterated, evaporated, washed away by the sheer uncontrollable magnitude of the ocean, icebergs, and freezing air. Perhaps the euphoria of surrender, so elusive to my recent concerted efforts to “achieve” it, will unfold of its own accord, descending upon me as spiritual revelations are rumored to do in dire situations, simply as a consequence of showing up for a situation in which forces are so magnificently, terrifyingly, and eloquently beyond my control.


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