By Tyler Fish
Over the past two years there have been many “firsts” on this project. There was the first time John and I talked discussed the idea, the first day we named our website and the first money contributed, to name a few. Before too long many more firsts will be experienced: the first day of REALLY cold weather (-50° or -60°F), the first night on the ice, the first ice ridge negotiated and the first open lead and on and on.
In his book, The Life of PI, Yann Martel writes something like, “First wonder strikes deepest.” All the rest fit in the depression left by the first. It may very well be that way on the expedition; we will so clearly remember the first sight of Ward Hunt Island, where we begin the journey. After that it will be just a feature in the landscape, fading away. It's also sort of like the first step into a cold, wet puddle of slush. After that you just have wet feet.
Today was the first day of snow in northeastern Minnesota, enough to cover the ground, stick in some of the trees, and make the driving treacherous as the snow hit the warm ground, then melted and then froze into a sheet of ice half an inch thick. In a way, all other snow that falls after this will be significant, but not as memorable as this. It was the first time I saw a skim of ice on puddles, the first cold blast of northerly winds, a reminder of winter's grip, and the first scraping of the windshield and the first very cold, wet foot. Today my wife, Sarah and I opted out of driving a couple of hours to an engagement, and instead we spent the day together. It was also my son Ethan's first significant outdoor adventure, in a life that will hold many, I hope.
This was the first time that our entire family, Sarah, myself, Ethan and Bud (German Shepherd) went for a walk outside. We suited up Ethan in an outfit we call his blue bear suit. The hood has two small bear-like ears. Since his birth, we hadn't all been outside together--something that's pretty important to us.
Today Sarah walked with Ethan strapped to her, Bud followed dutifully along side, and I pulled a tire for two and a half hours through the melting and flurrying northwoods. Sarah mentioned that she would rather be nowhere else than out in the woods with all three of her boys. In response Bud sniffed at things and Ethan, for the most part, slept. I plodded onward with my wet foot, listening to what she had to say, basically that happiness is best when shared.
Chris McCandless, from the popular book and film Into the Wild, after months of soul searching, wandering, watching for beauty, seeking the wisdom of others, and eventually starving to death alone, admitted the same thing. Happiness is best when shared with others.
I would never trek to the North Pole alone. It's a wonderful thing that John will be there with me to share the difficulty, the beauty, the moments and, of course, the firsts. And so I think about the classroom visits that I have coming up this week, because I'm sharing my experience with so many students. For some it might be the first time they hear about the Arctic Ocean and polar bears, winter camping or an unsupported expedition, Global Warming and the impacts of our society's actions. This whole expedition project experience means more to us when it is shared with others.