The Bottom of the Planet

How I brought home a penguin

The Bottom of the Planet
original artwork: Gary Seymore Jr.

I celebrated the beginning of my 42nd orbit of the Sun by visiting Santa Barbara, CA where my lovely friend treated me to a reiki session. I’d never even thought of reiki before but since it was already set up for the day of my birth I was kind of looking forward to it. That morning I found myself in the dentist’s chair and returned home in time for my session with a numb face. Not to worry, my reiki therapist assured me it was fine, my face was not needed for the session. I knew my therapist was only told two things about me: my name is Amber and today is my birthday. As the session progressed she was saying things that really hit home, she called out my parental relationships to a tee. Then as she passed over my lower legs she made a startled noise and laughed a little. I asked what that meant and she told me she has seen spirit animals in other sessions and only a few have been birds but just now she swore a penguin leapt out at her. This made me laugh and I admitted to her I was going to work in Antarctica in just a few months.

Fast forward to near the end of my first Antarctic deployment. I was chatting with a fellow Antarctican over an after-work drink while he sketched and shaded a design he’d been working on for another one of our community members; he was after all the unsanctioned tattoo artist on station. We had already had a conversation about my fear of needles and the fact that I had no tattoos or piercings. At. All. When we met a few months earlier he really tried to convince me it was nothing to fear but as we became friends he gave up on convincing me and we just talked about his drawings and the daily happenings on station. This particular evening however he jokingly flipped a few pages back in his sketch pad and said, “Penguin!” then quickly flipped back to the page he was working on. He repeated this much to my amusement a few times before something in my brain said DO IT!!

• Mr. Popper’s Penguins was my first favorite book.

• I always visit the penguin exhibit at any zoo I visit and end up spending more time there than the rest of the zoo.

• When I told my family that I was going to Antarctica each and every one of them said, “Don’t steal any penguins!”

• My reiki therapist just told me the penguin is my spirit animal.

Literally all the signs were telling me this was meant to be. Besides, how would I feel if I left the Ice and missed out on this once in a lifetime opportunity. Who cares if I’m afraid of needles! Who cares if I’ve never marred my body with ink or holes! Who cares that my friends and family will wonder what alien has taken over my body upon my return to the States! I was going to do it, I was going to get a tattoo!!

The penguin I was quickly falling in love with was originally drawn for someone else but she changed her mind so there it sat, all alone in that sketch pad, just waiting for a comfy derma to call home. It was mine, Mine, ALL MINE! Now I just had three days to talk myself into/out of it. And trust me, I went all the way each direction on that spectrum each day.

The following Wednesday evening I met my tattoo artist at his dorm room, waited a few minutes for my ‘support’ to arrive (he was really late) decided to start without him, rolled up my pant leg and gave my ankle over to fate. A mere 15 minutes of amazing courage and very little breathing later I was the proud bearer of an adorable sketch tattoo of a penguin with the outline of the continent just under its little foot. A permanent reminder of my first experience on the Ice. They say Antarctica changes you, my ankle and I couldn’t agree more! I wonder what this deployment will hold!

(Written on day 32 of isolation in New Zealand. Our efforts to keep Covid-19 off the ice and protect all our fellow Antarcticans started with a 14 day isolation, now we just wait for the fickle weather to allow us to fly. August/September 2020)

Amber Claybourne
Amber Claybourne
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Amber Claybourne

I love to travel and study wine and viticulture. I have a BA in Communications and am trying to rediscover my creative writing side.

See all posts by Amber Claybourne