Here we wait. Smothered under a heavy damp blanket of sky the color of apathy. Surrounded by incongruously cheerful miniature sculptures of ice, gliding across the mirrored sea surface with grace, mocking the murky grey sky with a thousand shades of tenacity. Constrained by the wrong colors stained across a pixilated 2D representation of our world, our journey, our ambition.
The mornings are late and lazy. Once we’ve drawn ourselves out of our cozy nests of fleece and down, once we’ve tugged ourselves from the inevitable morning moments of despondency and painted on the hope and smile of a new day, once the coffee percolates our minds into movement, then we start gathering knowledge.
We download the newest ice charts that are generously compiled, condensed and emailed to us each morning by my sister. It is painstaking to coerce our satellite modem to stay connected long enough to draw down a small photo, one byte at a time. Sometime during the second cup of coffee, the information materializes.
They are blocky maps covered in streaks of erratic color, as if my 4-year-old nephew has gotten hold of them with a fistful of crayons each morning before my sister can send them along. The blue shows relatively clear water, easy sailing for us. The green segments contain plenty of ice chunks, but with leads of clear water among them. Yellow embodies intense watches of idling and weaving among ice fields, peppered with quick reverses and occasional U-turns. By the time the map turns orange and red, DogBark! can no longer contemplate a route. The orange and red zones clench thick churning icebergs and vast fields of uniform sea ice, trained to prevent even the big fancy ice breakers from smashing through.
I wish my nephew would lose his red crayon. And the orange one, too.
Here we wait. Our anchorage is green. The ice sculptures, emitting their vivacious whites and blues, stand watch behind the elliptical sliver of sandy relief, called Cross Island. A few curious carvings drift by innocuously enough. We are safe and comfortable. But there are stubborn scribbles of red and orange between us and our next safe harbor. Sometimes the scribbles shrink back from the shore, enticing us to hope just a little bit more. Other times they grow in texture and tenacity. Always, they are there.
When the only coffee left is a gritty deposit of discarded warmth, when the third and fourth and seventh look at the same reddish ice chart hasn’t changed its prognosis, when we have disappointingly determined once again that today is not the day to face the ice, then we start to bundle.
A few layers of polyester, lots of fleece, a puffy or two, and the first bead of sweat. The dance is comically uncoordinated as participants dig for gloves, locate hats, and forget neck warmers. Getting ready to go outside in below-freezing temperatures with five other sets of flailing elbows when standing straight up is a challenge and socks bicker daily, ensuring they will never be found together, it is – well – it’s an art.
But it’s well worth it, because the alternative is to stay pent up with all six jostling heaps of anxious energy inside a windowless maze of cramped living. And so, we bundle. Like a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, it seems we will never get out the door with a complete set of boots and mitts and smiling faces. And then the last piece tumbles into the dinghy and we are ashore, dots of synthetic color on a laden grey canvas, skipping enticingly round rocks across the face of a finished puzzle.
For a few hours, we pretend it is our choice to be here, that we are content to once again explore this same itsy-bitsy stretch of sand called an island, that the tarnished wind doesn’t bite at us, that we can’t see the molded ice formations stretching endlessly to the horizon in every direction, taunting us with hues of thick oozing red and orange, that we aren’t parked at the edge of the world and running out of peanut butter. We play 3-on-3 whiffle ball, invent scavenger hunts, run clumsy football passing plays, wander, pretend.
It’s dinnertime when we’ve finally unraveled the jigsaw puzzle, leaving a trail of sandy boots and wet socks and empty snack bags and tingling fingers into the clammy warmth of the boat. Our conversation weaves across the meal like childish scrawl, an unsteady pen guiding the words through the silliest football tackle of the day and across the distress of the all too recent whale hunt before drawing down, weary in its nightly repetition, spiraling around and around the graffiti-ed ice charts. One more scrutiny, one more hope for tomorrow’s change, one more plea to lay off the red and orange scribbling.
Here we wait. Tomorrow will repeat today, a replica of a hearty boat holding a weary crew making lemonade out of too few lemons and too many blood oranges. The ice chart will materialize, one pixel at a time, a colorful betrayal of a monochrome outlook. This is not an easy path. But we will not forfeit our sanity on the doorstep of the stubborn ice.
We will draw courage from the transparent steam that escapes the grasp of thick dark coffee, that resists both gravity and cold to caress our senses into optimism. We will brush on thin coats of patience, like glossy varnish protecting vulnerable teak. We will encourage the willowy thread of hope still twisting faintly around us, silver and glimmering. We will play whiffle ball and skip rocks and study maps and wait, right here, until blue and yellow and green pixels unfurl our future across the screen and across the water, extending their vibrant permission to persevere.