As Idle as a Painted Ship Upon a Painted Ocean

   Some days it seems that life leaves us idle, or more often not idle, but the day is filled with the same things offering little excitement.  Then out of the blue, or even out of the fog and mist, something comes along that makes the day.  Such is what happened on the first Friday of Lent.   It came in the mailbox.  It is so rare to get a real piece of mail and not just an e-mail, but this item is definitely the real thing. 

   I recently bought a religious book on line, and since then I have gotten a couple solicitations from religious orders.  At first I thought this newest postal delivery was the next in the series of pious petitions.  

    It is a postcard with a wooden Celtic Cross standing tall on a shoreline against a blue sky drizzled with clouds.  I glanced at the back of the card where the writing was so neat, I at first thought that it was printed copy.  Dominicans?  Franciscans?  Who else needs help? 

   Then I began to read.

    The ice was here, the ice was there, the ice was all around.  It cracked, it growled, it roared, it howled like noises in a swound.   At length did cross an albatross; through the fog it came; as if it had been a Christian soul, we hailed it in God’s name.

   Well, I recognized the verse from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner that we covered for many years in English 10. 

    Then I read the ending.  “I’m in Antarctica doing marine chemical research.  Hope you are doing well.”  —  Candace Wall   Seton ’06.

    Then I read the photo identification:  Vince’s Cross looking over McMurdo Sound at Hut Point, Ross Island, Antarctica.

   Before I go on, I have a confession to make – no, not about things that I might need a hermit good to shrive me of.  This is it:  All those years we read and studied and memorized The Rime, I never knew that albatross really did fly around the South Pole.  I had only seen pictures of albatross running along sunny, tropical beaches trying to make flight.  I thought that the albatross in the poem was an aberration and made the killing of it that much worse.  Then not long ago I read Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World – the story of Shackleton and his crew of  The Endurance and their exploration of Antarctica.  Here is a passage from the book:

   “Since leaving Elephant Island, [near Antarctica] the six men had been accompanied by an albatross, who soared and dipped through the air.  The bird could have reached South Georgia in a matter of hours, if it chose, while the men in the James Caird were crawling like a beetle over the surface of the ocean.  Each time Worsley calculated the number of miles they had put behind them, the bird seemed to mock their slow progress.”

   Even with all the adventures and heroism recorded in the book, this was the passage that excited me the most.

    Now we return to Candace’s postcard.  It was such a surprise and such a treat on one of those idle days.  Immediately two things about Candace came to mind.  Hearing that she was doing marine chemical research reminded me of her trip to the International Science Fair.  Candace had decided to do a project just to get some extra credit – she had no great aspirations and yet she did pretty well for herself.  So I guess it is not surprising to learn that she has pursued a science career.  Still, it is surprising that she would be doing her science in the waters off  Antarctica.

   The second memory is about her softball career at Seton.  In Candace’s English class somehow or another I actually got a little off the topic and told the students about how my sister Barb had changed a cheer into a prayer.  The cheer went like this:  Hey all you Seton fans, stand up and clap your hands…..Now that you’ve got the beat, this time let’s move our feet…..Hey now you’re in the groove, this time let’s really move.    Barb changed it to this:  Hey all you saints up there, stand up and say a prayer….  Now that you know the need, come on and intercede….. Hey now you know the way, this time let’s really pray.   The next day Candace told us that the softball game had been close, so she had gathered the outfielders together and they prayed the cheer, or rather cheered the prayer – at least as much as they could remember.   And a fly ball to the outfield was caught – game over – Seton won.     

      I think it would take a prayer cheerer to survive the trials that Antarctica must offer.  Hopefully Candace will one day be able to tell the students of Seton and/or a gathering of Seton alumni about her adventures. 

     Thanks Candace for the postcard and bringing back some good memories.  I’m doing fine.


Jezu, ufam Tobie.