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PONDER Blog

Perspective

Chelsea Behymer

 Wall to wall. Wave meets rock. Tasman Peninsula.

Wall to wall. Wave meets rock. Tasman Peninsula.

Only the open ocean can make a cruise ship feel small. Pulling out from the protection of the Tasman peninsula, the effect of prevailing westerlies on the surface of the open ocean becomes very apparent. In port, I had been thinking the ship looked absurd, disproportionately larger than any built structure in Hobart. The contrast made the thing look almost too big to function. But out here, the size of it is fitting, and I'm grateful for it.

I always look forward to the days at sea when it's 'heavy weather', as they call it here when it gets to the point that they have to close off the open decks (much to my dismay). Its thrilling to watch a massive wave roll toward us and collide with the refracted energy of the one before it to create the most beautiful turquoise splayed fan of water that dramatically cascades back to the surface. I love watching the birds dive effortlessly up and over the chaotic washing machine of water, like there is some sort of rhythm I'm missing. And I think there is. But on the ship, we're going against it, pushing where the sea doesn't want us to go (at least not in one piece). While not completely at its mercy, the rolling and creaking of metal is enough to feel the power of the ocean and a potential to succumb to it.

 Ocean rhythm. Tasman Sea.

Ocean rhythm. Tasman Sea.

The Fiordland of southwestern New Zealand also has that same dwarfing effect on this ship. After two days of being at sea, approaching land initially seemed strange. The outlines of mountains looked small in the distance. But once inside one of the fiords, perspective changes. I didn't take any pictures, although the day was beyond photo worthy. Fiordland is well known for its rain, where sunshine is generally measured in hours, rather than days. The sun did peek out from behind the clouds for a handful of breathtaking moments, highlighting different features of each fiord, almost as if to focus our attention on one at a time. Otherwise, it may have been overwhelming to have the steep cliffs draped with waterfalls and ancient forest in full sunlit glory all at once. It's also difficult to take photos when you are attempting to narrate the experience for everyone else on board. There were many (perhaps too many) moments when I had no words that could do it justice. It's almost like stepping back into Jurassic times, but instead of pterodactyls, it's not difficult to imagine that Haast Eagles, the largest to have lived on the planet, used to swoop between the cliff faces here. Perhaps on the journey back to Australia in a couple of weeks, when we sail through Fiordland again, I'll have processed it enough to take a picture.

Witnessing the power of time and water, coupled with the scale of things here and on the open ocean makes it difficult to comprehend that we could have a significant effect on either. But when I think of the many birds that used to thrive here, I understand that while the physical processes that generate these waves and continues to carve these mountains may forever continue to put up a good fight, it's the life connected to this system that is vulnerable to our actions.

 Seabird size-up. Tasman Sea.

Seabird size-up. Tasman Sea.

But yesterday in Dunedin, I found hope in my visit to some very large living birds that are doing quite well (thanks to people who understood that connection), and while not exactly sizing up to the ship, they certainly make me feel small! More on that to come.