For several nightless days we traversed eastern Greenland’s glaciers. Wherever we turned, just about every peak had its own glacier dropping and merging into the large ice sheets that were supporting us. During one magic moment, I had a strange sense of déjà vu – I was in one of the expansive scenes Hergé beautifully drew for Tintin in Tibet, and which I had seen when I was a little kid. How much of our life’s design takes on childhood moments as strong influences? Do you remember moments of wonder that made you dream? What happened to those dreams? In Greenland, I was fulfilling childhood dreams. To use modern language, I was becoming complete.
The most fundamental inspiration in my life has actually always been the Moon landings. Everything I have ever done has been project-based and mission oriented because that’s how I conceive of a life well lived. For a long time before Greenland I had not been able to connect my missions to science, a basic feature of space exploration. So it was another fundamental fulfillment for me to continue taking snow and ice samples along our route. This exploration of Greenland had all the basic ingredients I needed to be fully alive.
On our next-to-last day on the ice, we found a small nunatak on which to camp. It was like a large molar sticking out of the snow. On closer inspection, a moat filled with crystal clear water surrounded the molar. Perfect location! We cooked on the molar. To get water, we lowered a pot on a rope into the moat. We enjoyed a pleasant afternoon until the shadows of the surrounding peaks reached us. The temperature dropped precipitously and we layered up. We had thoroughly probed a large snow rectangle next to the nunatak and determined it was free from hidden crevasses – or at least, free from weak bridges on hidden crevasses. That’s where we set our tents, to which we retired earlier than normal under the growing cold. We had not seen another human being since landing off the Tasiilaq fjord.
The mission was almost complete. But I had read other books besides Tintin in Tibet – Jules Verne’s in particular. Greenland was only the beginning.