Finding One’s “True North”
Imagine an 8-year old girl sitting on her bed underneath a thick white comforter “tent,” flashlight in hand to illuminate her precious book. She wasn’t hiding from her parents, but making believe she was reading inside an Inuit iglu made of snow. While her classmates unvaryingly borrowed “Black Beauty” and “Nancy Drew” mysteries from the school library, her eyes hungrily consumed tales about Robert E. Peary’s 1909 expedition to the North Pole or Roald Amundsen’s polar exploits. She found the lives of explorers such as Fridtjof Nansen, Ernest Shackleton and Admiral Byrd much more compelling than any of the popular children’s stories. The more about their adventures she read, the more she wanted to be one of them, innocently promising herself to one day stand at the Geographic North Pole. In her youthful imagination she yearned to become a member of that distinguished community.
I was that 8-year old girl.
As I matured, those dreams were eclipsed by life’s more conventional obligations and ensuing adulthood responsibilities, but the hopes born inside that private ‘iglu’ remained. All the while, I lived vicariously through any news I could find of current day polar adventurers who were testing the boundaries of new frontiers and pursuing goals that had not yet been attained.
Ironically, it was the near complete destruction of the life I had known and grown accustomed to that created the path to my personal renaissance (literally ‘rebirth’). On the heels of the deaths of my beloved maternal Grandfather, my Father, my calligraphy teacher, five of my dogs – all hitting me in numbingly rapid succession – came 9/11. The office of one of the architectural firms for which I had worked was in the North Tower. My resulting emotional and psychological collapse precipitated the end of a 30-year marriage. In my suicidal stupor, I sought out the help of a professional. It was through the expert guidance of my therapist that I as the metaphorical Phoenix emerged from the ashes. My therapist didn’t simply suggest that I revisit the idea of my iglu dream. She dared me to pursue it… She proved to be the spark that rekindled my fire.
Even the daunting logistics and the dangers I could possibly face did not derail me from my ultimate endeavour. Relying on the lessons I had learned from those explorer tales I’d read as a young girl, I knew I possessed the stamina, determination and presence of mind that are essential traits required to carry out objectives of such caliber.
On April 18-th, 2003, I stepped foot on the North Pole, degree 90-North. I stood there for a brief eternity….. alone….. in my solitude, in my dream of dreams, in my moment of existential transformation. Up there where the latitude lines converge, I discovered my own True North.
Shortly after I returned from the Arctic, I turned those life-altering experiences into an outreach education program series, appropriately named “90-NORTH.” Through my interactive presentations, regardless of the audience and venue, I strive to share my passion for the Arctic – with the objectives of fostering a clearer understanding of the region’s influence on the global ecosystem and encouraging conscientious stewardship of our planet.
As Jacques Yves Cousteau wisely said, “People protect what they love.” My new dream is to inspire my audiences to fall in love with the Far North by revealing the Arctic’s breathtaking beauty so that together we really can protect it for future generations….
* * * *
The following paragraph is copied from the last entry of my 2003 North Pole expedition series of dispatches. And all these years later, every word still holds true:
“In conclusion…. I have returned a different woman. I have experienced a sense of belonging to our planet, and at the same time felt smaller than a speck within a universe previously only imagined. I have come to know true camaraderie of people with the same desires and visions and hopes. I have lived this dream both solo and with them. To discover the deep significance of existence is a rare joy, and while I stood there in the white windy presence of eternity, and in the silence and vivid elemental splendor of the Arctic North, I felt peace and spiritual harmony within my soul. Ironically, in this ultimate adventure upon a boundless sea of ice, I have witnessed the power and the magic of life itself. I am humbled to have been able to stand at the very top of the world, and to understand that no one does so without bringing some of it away with themselves nor without leaving something of themselves behind…. This, my friends, is the very essence of what I call: Polar Nirvana! ”