A dose of good cheer . . .

There’s something about Americans.

They are everywhere, it seems. Sometimes by choice; sometimes by happenstance, often on orders and sometimes unwillingly. Americans travel the globe. Occasionally, they’re “ugly.” Almost always, when Americans “discover” a place, it is changed. And many would argue that change, though inevitable, is less than desirable.

There are other nationalities that also travel the globe; many of them English-speaking — Brits, Canadians, Australians. But there are French-speakers, Spanish-speakers, Scandinavians, Asians, and Africans. In fact, today, all nationalities travel extensively. Most travel rather inconspicuously.  Americans tend to stand out and are occasionally the brunt of jokes and the subject of pervasive and less-than-flattering stereotypes. 

But, there’s something about Americans.

On Christmas Day morning, on a beach in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico, a group of Americans gathers to hang stuffed animals, matchbox cars, soccer balls, footballs, Barbie dolls, and an assortment of other toys from the palapas and beach umbrellas of a local hotel. They wear Santa hats, blinking reindeer noses and silly, floppy reindeer antlers, candy cane shirts, and an assortment of other red and green attire with their swimsuits and shorts.

The beach chairs and lounges are circled to keep the public at a distance. No one really seems to be in charge. At 8:30 am on Christmas Day, it is quiet on the beach. And then more people arrive, some with armloads of stuffed animals, some with plastic bags from the Walmart on the other side of the Mexican city. Some come with one or two toys. Many dropped off their “goodies” earlier in the week. Word spread about the event, and the crowd steadily grew larger.

Volunteers bring ribbons and scissors. There is a festive spirit. Onlookers gather.

Soon, a group of children begin to form a line, off to one side. Quiet, and well-behaved, they stand with their parents and older siblings. They watch. They wait.

This ritual began more than 20 years ago. On Christmas Day 2004, I was on that beach that Christmas Day. A woman named Marge from Nashville, TN, one of the original group of Santa’s helpers, asked volunteers to walk down the beach to find more children. “This is the best year ever,” she said, “and I’m not sure we have enough children for all the gifts.”

There is no publicity. This is not an organized effort. There is no tax deduction attached to these gifts. There were lots of pictures taken. There are big smiles on the faces of the adults. The children look on with wide-eyed wonder. There are tears. There are hugs. There is a sense of excitement. There are cookies and soft drinks and music on a beach in Puerto Vallarta on Christmas Day. And there is a sense of community.

Even though most of the children speak no English, and most of the adults speak little Spanish, there is no language barrier.

One man with a distinctively British accent and a camera pauses to ask what is happening. When it is explained, he makes no comment. But he remains to take pictures, staying on the fringes but joining in the palpable spirit of goodwill.

At precisely 11 am, four Mexican children are allowed to enter the “garden” of hanging toys, each one accompanied by an adult American volunteer with a small pair of scissors. As each child walks through, he is allowed to take his time to look, and then his selection is snipped from its ribbon hanger and handed to him. It is almost silent. There is no screaming, no running. There is a sense of reverence as the child clutches his selection to his chest and then is escorted to the other edge of the toy-filled enclosure.

Children of hotel employees, youngsters whose parents are beach vendors, and children who have come to the beach for a day near the water and the sun with their extended families are the honored guests. They are all Mexican children. That is the only requirement.

It is not their tradition. Christmas, in Mexico, is a deeply religious holiday, with a family-oriented emphasis. Santa Claus does not visit most Mexican children.

But where there are Americans, there are some traditions that are hard to break. In the United States, there are toys for children. So, where Americans gather at Christmas, there will invariably be toys.

There is something about Americans.

Note: I first wrote this nearly two decades ago for an online publication that no longer exists. I was thinking today about that long ago Christmas on the beach, and it seemed appropriate to repost this piece this year, at a time when the world seems to need a large dose of goodness and cheer. I don’t know if the tradition continues in Puerto Vallarta. I hope it does. But, whether the beach party is still held or not, it is a wonderful memory. I wish Happy Holidays to all, no matter what holidays you celebrate or where you celebrate them. And may 2023 be a good year for us all!

Where dreams and reality meet . . .

I must confess that the 1962 red Corvette convertible I once owned spawned dreams of taking the ultimate Route 66 road trip. The car didn’t come into my life until years after the TV show ended, but both were classics. And, as they say, old dreams die hard. Sadly, that car and I shared memorable times on other highways and byways, but the cruise along Route 66 never happened. The Corvette was a part of my automotive “stable” for about 15 years, and I fondly remember that first sports car.

I later learned, to my disappointment, that the car used in the television show wasn’t even red. Even so, it was easy to fall into the rhythm and excitement of traveling along the Mother Road, on a press trip in September with fellow travel journalists.

Route 66 was just about 2,450 miles long. It began in Chicago and meandered through eight states on its way to Los Angeles. Only 13 miles were in Kansas, but much of the original Kansas highway remains. What was America’s “first superhighway” opened in 1926 between Illinois and California, and it became a primary “escape route” for those who fled middle America during the Dust Bowl days. It was, at the same time, a symbol of opportunity and the sign of a country that changed rapidly following the war years.

The Way It Was

One can still drive across the last surviving Marsh Bridge over Brush Creek, one of three concrete and steel rainbow bridges that once traversed Kansas creeks along Route 66. The bridge now is on a loop road off the thoroughfare, and it’s a favorite destination for photos, picnics, and an occasional wedding. The Route was officially “decommissioned” only in 1985, and it is no longer the highway of choice for modern travelers, other than those who are seduced by its history and its television fame.

Kansas, at least this portion of it, hasn’t changed much visibly over the past several decades, but its people have. Modern highways move vehicles and people faster and more efficiently, but traveling the short stretch of Route 66 is definitely more fun! It’s clear that this section of the historic highway still does what it was designed to do — it “connects the main streets of rural and urban America.” The best part? There are ample opportunities to pull off the road and explore Kansas communities!

Nostalgic reminders of a very different past are evident along the way. History comes alive when the Route 66 signs appear.

Nelson’s Old Riverton Store has been in continuous operation since 1925. Today, it looks much as it did then, and operates similarly, welcoming locals and tourists alike. It’s worth a visit – try a beet-juice pickled egg or purchase kitchy Route 66 magnets, ball caps, license plates and t-shirts. Why? Just because!

Locals still come to buy a loaf of bread or a can of beans, grab a soda and a sandwich, or just while away the time with friends. It’s that kind of place. It appears to be decades ago that any repairs were made to the building. Wildflowers grow up along the fence line and hanging baskets add color to the scene. Shopkeepers are welcoming and only too willing to share stories with visitors. It’s like stepping back in time.

It’s impossible to escape the influence of the Route in this part of Kansas.

Cars on the Route

Fans of Disney’s “Cars” are in for a treat at Cars on the Route in Galena. Visit the old Kan-O-Tex station and get up close to the rusty boom truck that was the inspiration for Tow Mater in the movie.

Walk down a dusty stretch of road and around a corner to enjoy a sack lunch at rustic picnic tables in the shade of a ramshackle lean-to. Snap some shots of the quirky old photo boards before moving on.

Other attractions in Galena include outdoor art and murals, a Texaco station turned curio shop on Main Street, complete with pumps set to recall the low gas prices of the time. There’s also a rusty old “jail” near the city’s square that provides an irresistible photo op!

We broke for lunch at Bricks & Brews in Baxter Springs, and what a treat that was, with a menu to satisfy any palate and attentive service accompanied by big smiles. We also stopped for an all-too-brief visit at the Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum. We had only limited time to spend, but it is a treasure trove of information about the town, the history of Cherokee County and southeast Kansas, the Civil War, and Route 66.

Nature and More

We pushed on to the Southeast Kansas Nature Center/Schermerhorn Park, near Galena. Admission is free, and the hilltop site acts like a magnet for anyone interested in visiting the 32-acre Shoal Creek Wildlife Area. There are wooded hills, streams, and caves to explore; dedicated anglers can even drop lines along a ¼-mile stretch of the creek. Indoor exhibits include live snakes, exploration drawers, plant, animal, and history exhibits, educational films, and the attention of a knowledgeable curator/guide. A bonus was a squirrel that visited the feeding station just outside the one-way glass!     

Add in a visit to Big Brutus, standing tall and proud at an old coal mining site on the Kansas prairie, and we were ready to sample Kansas comfort food — fried chicken with all the fixins at not one, but two, local restaurants with long histories in Pittsburg, Kansas.

I’ll fill you in on the food — and there was lots of it — next time. Our group sampled both downhome dishes — some with a new twist — and culinary delights for sophisticated palates.

Planning a road trip to this part of Kansas from the neighboring states of Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, or from farther afield, is easy. It seems appropriate to leave the Interstates behind and enjoy the miles of farmland punctuated by picture-postcard views of old barns, fields filled with growing crops that stretch towards the sun, and animals lazily passing the time doing what farm animals do. The route stretches on with gentle curves; small towns are not far apart and each promises a unique and unusual experience.

Be sure to request your Kansas map and state travel guides in advance of a road trip to Kansas. Knowing where you’re going and what there is to see makes a driving trip so much better!

Full Disclosure: This trip was sponsored by Kansas Tourism, and the itinerary was prearranged. But the impressions are mine alone. I want to return, and it’s an easy road trip from my home base in Arkansas. I’ll be writing more about Kansas as well as about other travel to new destinations abroad in 2023. Subscribe to my blog here, or follow me on Facebook and Instagram.

The Lowell Milken Center: Recognizing Unsung Heroes

The Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes occupies one of the newer buildings in Fort Scott, Kansas, situated across the street from its original location. Several century-old historic buildings in downtown Fort Scott, Kansas, were destroyed by fire in 2005 and have since been rebuilt. An adjacent outdoor park opened earlier this year and is a contemporary urban delight. The downtown still retains its former character, with traditional brick buildings and brick-paved streets, but the city’s history is being written with renewed vigor.

Stories told at the Center are larger than life, brought to life in a way that is truly remarkable. The history of the Milken Center is as awe-inspiring as the lives of the featured heroes. Visitors are introduced to real people who lived seemingly ordinary lives, playing largely unknown and unrecognized roles in history. Their stories have been uncovered, researched, and retold by students, through art and drama, photographs and videos, essays and interactive displays. Their truths are as thought-provoking as they are disturbing. The history of the Milken Center is as awe-inspiring as the lives of the featured heroes.

In 1999, Norm Conard was a social studies teacher at Uniontown High School in rural Kansas. He had given his class a History Day assignment. One of his student teams learned of Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic social worker who was instrumental in rescuing children from the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. She buried the names of rescued children in milk jars hidden under a tree. It was, and still is, quite a story. Read a more detailed account here. The students found that Sendler was alive and living still in Poland. In 2001, Conard accompanied a group of students to Poland to meet with her. Several other trips followed, until she passed away in 2007. The student-written play about her deeds, “Life in a Jar,” has been performed more than 350 times, and it continues to be be staged in the U.S and Europe.

During his tenure at Uniontown High School, Conard’s students created more than 85 projects, telling the stories of other common people who performed uncommon acts. Those stories are now the focus and backbone of the Center for Unsung Heroes. New heroes continue to be identified by groups of students — from fourth grade through high school — who have been inspired to dig deep into history and to move far beyond the obvious.

Today, Norm Conard serves as chief executive officer of the Center and is also the director of the Life in a Jar Foundation. It was, after all, his classroom motto for the History Day project in 1999 that gave birth to the idea. That motto? “He who changes one person, changes the world entire.” The Lowell Milken Center was founded with the goal of creating ripples of influence that will engage even more educators and students in an effort to change the world. Megan Felt, one of the students who first identified Irena Sendler, is the center’s program director.

Plan to spend longer than you may originally intend at the Milken Center. It is no ordinary museum. It’s a place to discover the true meaning of heroes in a time when that word is often overused. It’s mesmerizing and unforgettable.

But the Milken Center isn’t the only reason to visit Fort Scott.

Before Kansas was even a territory, Fort Scott was a military outpost. It was established on the frontier in 1842 but the Army abandoned the garrison in 1853. The city was chartered in 1860, one year before Kansas became a state. Today, it’s the only such town to survive. Its military cemetery, one of 12 originally designated by President Abraham Lincoln, is listed as U.S. National Cemetery #1.

Our group spent that first night in Kansas at the Courtland Hotel and Day Spa. Situated in a building that dates to 1906, it was once a bustling laundry with a boarding house on its upper level. Proprietor Frank Adamson, a Fort Scott native, is only too happy

to offer insights into city history! He and his wife, a massage therapist, purchased the building as a location for her to open a day spa. They remodeled a portion of the main floor for the spa, with refurbished guest rooms on the second floor. Today, each room in the hotel is distinctive, filled with antiques and period decor to complement the architecture and honor the building’s history. A main floor lobby, office area and dining room retain the period charm of the past, and serve as a gathering spot where Adamson regales guests with stories of Fort Scott’s past.

A center of pre-Civil War turmoil between slavery proponents in nearby Missouri and local anti-slavery forces, this part of of the state was known as “Bleeding Kansas” until the end of the Civil War, even though Kansas entered the union as a free state in late January 1861, before the war began. As the U.S. Army’s district Headquarters, Fort Scott was a quartermaster supply depot, training center, and recruitment station.

At one time, it was a noted frontier city, one of the largest in eastern Kansas, and it rivaled Kansas City as a railroad center. All that now remains of that time is the original, restored Old Fort building, now relocated to the town square. But the stories that date to those times are fascinating, and visiting Fort Scott is like stepping back in time to a simpler era. Brick-paved streets, sturdy brick buildings, and stately period lamp posts reflect its history, but its people have their sights set on the future, and they’re doing their best to integrate the two.

We left Fort Scott and headed for Route 66 — The Mother Road. Only 13 miles of the unique highway traversed a corner of the state, but it’s impossible to escape the influence of the Route in this part of Kansas. Come along next Wednesday as we recreate a legendary road trip. We had great fun along the way and discovered more unique attractions in Southeast Kansas!

Kansas Part 2 — Comfort food and much more

I first met two of my traveling companions for this trip at the Kansas City Airport. We had arrived at approximately the same time from our starting points in Arkansas, Boston and Michigan. We did the only thing possible: we found a comfortable table in an airport eatery and proceeded to get to know one another until our host could pick us up.

After ordering coffees and ice water, we browsed a menu of mostly uninspired airport dining options. We did not know when we would rendezvous with our other four traveling companions, nor did we know exactly what our schedule had in store for later in the afternoon. However, we did know that we were destined for dinner at a barbecue restaurant in Fort Scott that evening. After some discussion, we decided to try the airport version of local barbecue. And we were pleasantly surprised! The three of us shared an order of barbecue pork sliders — one for each of us — ample small bites that were quite tasty.

If there’s a single universal impression of Kansas food, it’s probably of “comfort food,” and what’s more comforting to a Midwesterner than barbecue and fried chicken? More about that later.

Following an Uber ride and another round of introductions, our group was complete. We settled into our rental van for the drive from Kansas City to Fort Scott.

It was at dinner that first evening in Fort Scott that we were introduced to a great variety of barbecue options. The tagline on the menu at Luther’s BBQ, which opened in 2019 just prior to the pandemic, was “good food and plenty of it!” We were to find that could well be a statewide slogan.

The restaurant, housed in an historic brick building in the heart of Fort Scott, offered an extensive menu with much to sample — all simple food as it turned out. We enjoyed tasty deviled eggs and a variety of meats and cheeses — the best kind of finger foods, and delightful drink options, including a Bloody Mary that exceeded all expectations and was “write-home-about-good!”

Sadly, I must end my report about the meal we had at Luther’s, because a message on my computer lists the restaurant as “closed permanently.” I believe that Fort Scott residents were hoping it would be another success story in the city’s planned rejuvenation. Maybe it still will be. But, for now, the website is down, and the phone goes unanswered.

The only thing I regret? I didn’t get a “doggie bag” to take with me.

We spent the night at the historic Courtland Hotel in Fort Scott. My plate was full again the next morning with oversized breakfast burritos and specialty coffees from Common Ground Coffee Co., served picnic-style at the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes. It was another treat in the lineup of Kansas attractions that awaited our group.

The second full day in Kansas was jam-packed with new sights and experiences.

It began at the Milken Center and continued with a drive along the stretch of historic Route 66 that still runs through the state. Kansas, at least this portion of it, hasn’t changed visibly over the past several decades. In many ways, that’s comforting. You know what they say — “The more things change . . . ” Well, yes, much does remain the same.

But change is in the air and there’s a lot more to come!

Kansas — living the dream

Today’s Kansas is not the one that Dorothy and Toto might easily recognize. The winds still blow hard across the state’s prairies. No doubt they still have the power to swirl some dirt around and can occasionally cause tall grass to bend almost horizontal to the ground. The state has endured its share of hard weather and hard times over the years, and not only in fiction.

Today, however, Kansas has its eyes on the future, and that future is bright. The past two and a half years of pandemic closures and uncertainty have in some ways been a catalyst for the growth and development that began before the shutdown. Change is “impatient” in the state today.

The focus is forward-facing and the vibe everywhere is hopeful and energetic.

In late September, I participated in a whirlwind three-day tour of southeast Kansas. As the region’s Travel Guide proclaims: “SOUTH of the stars, EAST of the sunset, smack dab in the heart of America.” This is not a part of Kansas I had previously visited, and I didn’t know quite what to expect.

From the air, the state resembles a patchwork quilt of color, with sinewy ribbons of rivers and roads winding across the prairies. Kansas is filled with small farming communities, each with a unique personality. There are many; we flew into Kansas City, visited Fort Scott, Humboldt, Chanute, Galena, Pittsburg, and Baxter Springs, and drove through others without stopping. Although all towns in Kansas are classified as “cities,” only five boast populations of 100,000 or more. Everywhere we went, we met locals who are in the process of redefining their past history and their future in distinctive ways. Make no mistake, history is intertwined with dreams here in southeast Kansas, and that contributes to the region’s infectious vitality.

To be fair, I was not completely unfamiliar with Kansas, known as the Sunflower State. I was grounded at the Kansas City Airport during a snowstorm many years ago — not one of my happier memories. But the flatland prairies calm me, and road trips always are interesting. The Cosmosphere in Hutchinson is not only fascinating but well worth an extended visit. Four years ago, I enjoyed an all-too-short visit to Wichita. I knew about Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley, but Fort Scott was new to me.

However, I didn’t arrive for my recent visit to this “flyover state” anywhere near as enthusiastic as I was when it came time to leave. The trip was eye-opening, the people welcoming and the sights impressive in unique ways. It was invigorating to spend time on the ground in the heart of America.

I want to return. Sooner rather than someday!    

Today’s winds of change are especially strong in some of the state’s traditional farming communities. The New York Times chose Humboldt as one of its 52 best places to travel for 2022. After being there, I know why! The land may not have changed much, but its inhabitants have. It’s hard not to fall in love with this part of the state. Southeast Kansas is full of pleasant surprises and some quirky attractions, and its people seem to be moving at full throttle into a future even they cannot yet quite imagine.

Travel with me . . .

Over the next several weeks I’ll share more of my thoughts. We’ll start in Fort Scott and the jewel in its crown – the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes. Then, we’ll move on to the 13 miles of Route 66 that still cross this corner of the state and explore other Kansas byways, ending in Emporia, now the acknowledged center of two thoroughly modern sports – disc golf and gravel bicycle racing. We’ll visit the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum in Chanute, a small city also known for its ties to railroading and early aeronautics.

All along the way, we’ll explore Kansas eateries, sampling traditional “comfort food” and new taste treats served by innovative chefs and restaurateurs. This was a trip that kept us on the move. Despite a rental van glitch that required a delayed start and an initial itinerary adjustment, our group of journalists crammed a week’s worth of experiences into the time we had, thanks to the extraordinary planning of Kansas Tourism and our local hosts.

Join me to learn more about the food we enjoyed along the way — it may surprise you! Then, if you should decide to see southeast Kansas for yourself, know that residents of its many charming communities will show you around and make you feel at home — visitors to Kansas don’t remain strangers for long!

71 10 21– and other points on the globe

Magnetic North, the point on the globe where all other locations lie to the south, is commonly known as the North Pole. But it’s moving, sometimes pretty rapidly, according to scientists.

Despite romantic notions to the contrary, the North Pole is not a physical point on the planet, but it’s also not a figment of the imagination.

It’s not where Santa Claus hangs out. It’s not a very hospitable place. And, no, I have not been there. In fact, I haven’t been even close. But, last summer I crossed into the Arctic Circle as a passenger aboard a lavish modern cruise ship, Princess Cruise lines Island Princess. It was a unique adventure, and the trip is spectacular. My husband and I were there during “polar day,” which lasts from about the time of the Spring Equinox in late March through late September. During those days the sun never completely falls beneath the horizon and one can read at midnight with no need for a lamp.

At 66 (plus a little bit) degrees north latitude, the Arctic Circle forms a ring around what is known as the Earth’s North Pole. The certificates we received to commemorate the crossing, signed by Ship’s Captain Paul Slight, attest that on “Friday, June 17, 2022 at 12:12 am,” we crossed that fabled line. In our minds, we had become Arctic explorers.

We traveled further north. Nordkapp lies at Latitude 71°10′21″ N, a high plateau on a spit of land that rises almost 400 feet above the swirling Arctic Ocean below. It is cold, windy and forbidding on the best of days. In the winter, the road to Nordkapp is often impassable, and not even reindeer remain on the surrounding fields.

The nearest town is approximately 22 kilometers distant. Oslo, Norway’s capital, lies about 2000 kilometers to the south, and the North Pole is about the same distance further north. At the easternmost end of the virtually uninhabited land, there is a 121.6-mile land border with Russia, established by treaty in 1826. But few travelers cross at the single border station, and the boundary between the two countries continues through the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean. As the furthest north point of land in continental Europe, Nordkapp attracts visitors who harbor the same dreams that have lured explorers to points unknown over the centuries. Their stories are captivating.

Early visitors had to arrive by boat on the sea below. They scaled steep, rocky cliffs to reach the point above. There was no visitor center then, and the path back down the cliff had to be even more difficult than the climb up.

Today, the draw of this stunning promontory is so powerful that tourist buses sometimes follow snowplows to bring visitors to the point. Our trip in June, however, entailed a pleasant drive along modern roadways, punctuated by native Sami settlements and the sight of reindeer grazing on the barren windswept land. They and their Sami masters invariably return to the mainland in the fall, prior to “polar night,” when the sun does not rise above the horizon for a period of months. We also visited a northern fishing village, which must feel terribly isolated during the winter.

Another northern port, sadly, was canceled. We had been scheduled to call at Svalbard, the island that houses the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, an underground facility that stores millions of crop seeds from throughout the globe, protecting them against disasters of all kinds, including global warming. We had anticipated visiting Longyearbyen, the largest settlement with a population exceeding 1,000 in the Arctic region, but the visit was canceled at the 11th hour.

Our trip through the coastal fjords was spectacular, relaxing and enlightening. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to visit a far-away landscape that is awesomely beautiful, to drink in the natural beauty of the far North, and to meet the people who inhabit this extraordinary landscape. Those who live here are accustomed to strangers, but no one remains a stranger for long!

Now, another adventure awaits . . .

In January 2023, my husband and I — barring unforeseen circumstances — will experience another polar day. We will reach approximately 65 degrees south of the Equator and cruise among the ice shelves and along the shoreline of this unique continent. Our 16-day itinerary with the Sapphire Princess promises to be a unique adventure. We are not likely, given the size of our ship and current regulations, to cross Latitude 66°33′49.3″ which is the official Antarctic Circle. Only the smaller expedition ships and scientific teams venture further into this ice-covered environment.

We are scheduled to fly into Santiago, Chile, and embark from the port of Valparaiso for a journey that will take us to the southern reaches of Patagonia, and to Ushuaia, “the southernmost outpost in the world” at the tip of Argentina. We expect to sail in Beagle channel, as did Charles Darwin, and round Cape Horn just as previous generations of seafarers did on their voyages to the new world. Then, we look forward to spending four full days cruising the waters of the Antarctic Peninsula, leaving Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina and traversing Drake Passage, hopefully without incident, and with minimal turbulence from notoriously rough waters where the currents of three oceans collide. It’s a voyage I have long envisioned!

Just days ago, however, on December 2, 2022, I learned of the rogue wave that struck the Viking Polaris in nearby waters, resulting in the death of a passenger, injuries to four others, and damage to a well-equipped modern cruise ship. I realized once again that we humans have little control over the forces of nature, much as we would like to be the “powers that be.”

Does it concern me? Not enough to change our existing plans, but I cannot claim it didn’t give me pause. This trip to the bottom of the world, just as our trip to the Arctic Circle, will be during a polar day (or summer season) due to the inclination of the earth in relation to the sun. When my husband and I travel in late January to the southern reaches of the globe, will it be calmer in those waters? I do not know.

There are no permanent settlements in Antarctica, and the various research stations are located further south than our journey will take us. We will not set foot on Antarctica, the seventh of earth’s continents, but to gaze out at the barren expanses of snow-covered terrain and cruise past glistening icebergs, larger even than the ones we encountered in Alaska, will be enough. I, for one, am enthralled by the thought of being (relatively) close to another of earth’s legendary places — the South Pole. Like the North Pole, it is not a fixed point — it, too, shifts, even though there is a land mass below. If we are fortunate enough to spy seabirds, seals, penguins, albatross, and other wildlife in their natural habitat, we will count it as a bonus.

And, if our travel through Drake Passage is a calm one, I am certain we will be forever grateful. This trip to the “bottom of the world” is not only the culmination of a long-held dream, it also seems a fitting “second act” to last summer’s Arctic adventure.