The Whole Truth

Sikuliaq Ice Trials
April 4, 2015

Sea ice fracturing
Sea ice fracturing

This is my day for making stuff up, as if I don’t already make everything up. No, I’ve been good. This non-fiction thing is cool, but tough. We were laughing about newspaper articles today, or maybe it was yesterday, or perhaps it’s a couple days from now. And I made the comment I always make when it comes to newspapers, or TV newscasts (which I never watch unless I’m in them) — because they get it wrong. They always get it wrong. Every time a topic comes up that I know something about, I know they get it very wrong. I have to be happy if they get the gist alone. By extension, I can’t trust any of it — this thing they call non-fiction.

So I probably shouldn’t pick-it up as a day job. Oops. But in the spirit of never getting things all the way right, I shouldn’t waste words going through the errata, nor attempt to fix errors in the blog once I get to shore and can edit the postings easily. Little things. Like we’ve been catching brittle stars, not sea stars. Like midwater is one word (unbeknownst to M.S). That the “lemming” sighting was, once the photos were analyzed, probably another bird in the owl’s claws. Then there’s sorting the odd Eric from the odd Scott, and perhaps we’ve not caught just one fish but eight, and one of those by the ship’s sea strainer!

To make you feel better, we are talking about a guy (me) who will change a character’s name mid-chapter because suddenly something else sounds better or helps me better remember a night on a boat in a bay and margaritas and… — consistency can usually be rediscovered later. So maybe there are couple extra people on the boat who don’t exist? No. I’ve been good. Can you settle for mostly true — because something can never be completely true. I’d go as far as to say we wouldn’t actually want it to be. Because, really, seeing is believing. You don’t learn about lost Atlantis from a book do you? You have to go there. So, find a boat. Run away to the sea. It’s better than the circus.

Warning. I spoke with Captain Hoshlyk concerning the issue of dentistry and he just sort of grimaced and admitted, no, there’s not much we can do besides break out the pain killers and the antibiotics and wait till we can get you back to shore. Which, now we mention it, turns out he does have one crewmember whose having issues with a root canal. I know the feeling! (could be a wisdom tooth, but I’m not a journalist and I pull a face at the thought of fact-checking after midnight). Let’s name the crewmember Iain Payne and leave it at that.

I especially like the concept of the Board of Lies, and I’m pretty sure the concept has been borrowed from other ships. It gets right to the bald truth of things, the fallacy that we’re dealing with knowns here. I carry two or three ‘notebooks’ with me while I’m traveling. The laptop. The phone. And an eight and a half by eleven hardbound, narrow-ruled notebook. I title each and every one of these so their battered selves can go on a shelf afterwards. The current one is titled Mostly Lies 4. Once upon a time I carried around two of these things, Mostly Lies and Mostly True. The first was for fiction notes, the second for day jobs. Stopped that practice, partly because of shoulder pain (in a bygone age of bulky laptops) but mostly because Mostly True was both no fun to write in, and an exercise in grotesque self-delusion. So just the one now, and everything goes in there. Perhaps the next one will just be called the Book of Lies. Be done with all pretenses.

I keep hoping I’m going to see one of our coring holes in the middle of a polygon of ice as it floats sadly by, doomed by its independence. The bits that make up this shattered sheet are thick. A few days ago we would have been walking on it without question. Now the swells from the south have done their worst. We’re late to the party. The game of Forbidden Island is well and done. It’s a desolation in jigsaw pieces and we can’t find a single edge.

Today the ship feels like a ship again, rolling and pitching in tune with the sea. We expect it will even more feel like a ship tomorrow as we begin to leave the ice behind, when the steady stop and roar, stop and roar becomes the odd lonely clunk of a chunk of wandering ice.

A small octopus
A small octopus

We caught an octopus today, with a Van Veen grab. A claw from the sky plucked it up along with worms and shellfish and muddy bottom. I took pictures of the scary beast in a pan of water and then again as Lorena held it in the palm of her hand. It wasn’t feeling well after that, so Ann put it in the refrigerator where it would find temperatures closer to what it was used to.

A good way to end the cores and the grabs and the nets for the cruise. A baby octopus from off the mud in the Bering Sea, a hundred meters below the water’s surface. Cue the Beatles.

An octopus in the hand
An octopus in the hand

Now everyone has begun to secure gear and that means packing for the trip back to Dutch. I can’t pack up the camera gear yet, but I pulled its disparate bits back together in one or two key places aboard and did pack my boots and the Mustang suit. No doubt the trip home is going to be as memorable as every other part and I’m sure I’ll have something to say — though maybe not as much. You can only hope.

Eric, Lorena, Bob, and Brandon are making Easter baskets out of Dixie bowls, plus-sized coffee filters, and strips of ruled paper. And yes, someone crossed out the word Easter on the Board of Lies and wrote in “Springtime” instead. Oh, the truth is weighty, contentious thing, fantastic, and complex, and dangerous.

Some of the science team make Easter baskets (clockwise from the man in the hat: Eric Wood, Brandon Hasset, Bob Beardsley, Lorena Edenfield).
Some of the science team make Easter baskets (clockwise from the man in the hat: Eric Wood, Brandon Hasset, Bob Beardsley, Lorena Edenfield).

The crew decorates the baskets with Sharpies. Always plenty of Sharpies on a boat. Board of lies. Indelible ink. Lorena asks if I’m going to decorate one. I usually say no to such things (it’s a vulnerability. I shouldn’t have a license to drive or to use colors), but this time I say ‘yes.’ I make a pattern in the bottom that’s something like a fractured ice floe or a really difficult game of asteroids. I draw the ship casting a line through the gaps. It ends abruptly, gone to some other world we know next to nothing about.

Sounds as if folks have been happy for all the photographs shot on the trip. Several people and organizations have already approached me for permissions use them in reports and presentations. That makes me happy. Yes. Yes. Use. Use. Credit the museum. It’s good to know they have value and can be used to promote ocean science and education. The ship is something for the university to be proud of.

For me a photograph is just a note, a reminder, like the blog, an excuse and a whip to get me to lay enough words down, as truthfully as appropriate, to make a sort of nodal network (thanks John for your descriptions of this) that will somehow encode everything else that can’t be put explicitly in words. I am completely confident the right synapses will fire at the right time. I laugh (sort of — Perry’s sleeping) while writing that, because at some point I will have the pleasure of decoding all of these notes and remembering all the other parts of the story, about all these crazy people who like to work on boats and on ice. I’ll probably change some names and I will undoubtedly call it fiction, or the whole truth, because they are the same thing.

This is my day for making stuff up, a holiday among holidays. I began making stuff up on April 4th, 1986. I was 14. Can you really put a fixed date on such a thing? I did. I wrote the date at the top of the first page. It was loose-leaf paper so there was no notebook to give a name to. The novel length story had a name (yeah, for some reason I’m not going to share that). In the story there were people I knew whose names hadn’t been changed, because who was going to read it anyway? And there were ships sailing the high seas, and dragons coming out of the ocean spray. Everything returns to the ocean. It’s a grand thing to be on the water again and writing something about it, and it makes me smile that the reality is far crazier than I could have imagined. It’s not lies, really. It’s just not the whole truth. It can never be.

— Roger Topp (UAMN Head of Exhibits, Design, and Digital Media Production)

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