Icy Decision

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What the researchers decide to do in the next few hours may mean life or death.

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Icy Decision

  1. 1. ICY DECISION Our shelter withstood the winds quite well keeping the research teamsnug and warm what with the propane heaters blasting hot air. Situated afew hundred yards from open water and the narwhals we were studying theshelter would normally be safe for at least another month. However, thecracking sound of the splitting ice signaled this was no normal year. The icewas breaking apart, and the stormy weather made immediate evacuationimpossible. Fear was readily apparent on the faces of Bill and Steve, mytwo colleagues. Becoming a marine biologist had been my dream almost as far back as Icould remember. Animals and nature programs had always fascinated me,but now it looked like it might be my undoing. Yesterday, we lost our smallresearch boat when the ice it was on unexpectedly broke free and floatedaway. Unless we could devise a makeshift boat or the storm broke, wemight not survive. The cracking noise continued to sound beneath and around us.Periodically, one of us would head outside to check on the cracks and theopening leads in the ice. So far the ice under our shelter appeared safe, butby now the water had separated us from the mainland. We were notequipped to travel overland hundreds of miles to the nearest Eskimo village,so we had decided to keep to our shelter. Now, though, that looked as if hadbeen a mistake. The storm continued unabated and suddenly the shelter listed to one side.Rushing outside we saw that the ice floe we were on had completely brokenaway from the surrounding ice. It was only about fifty meters wide andseventy-five meters long, and the prevailing winds were pushing us awayfrom the mainland. With this sudden change we gathered back inside to hold a quick council. Steve initiated the conversation, “If anyone has an in with man upstairs,you better make a call right now.” Ever the practical one, Bill responded with displeasure, “Don’t waste ourtime with empty chatter. We need a plan and right now.” Reluctantly, I put forth the only idea that had come to mind. “The whaleholder for the immature narwhals we take tissue samples from and tag mightbe able to hold us all once it’s turned upside down.” “It will swamp with the first large wave,” Bill replied.
  2. 2. “No, wait a minute,” Steve answered. “It just might work. If we cananchor our plastic ‘boat’ to the side of the an ice floe out of the wind, wemight just pull it off.” Bill’s disgusted grunt of assent proceeded his words, “Seeing as there isno other option we’d better get at it.” It only took a few minutes to rearrange our shelter and pull our makeshiftboat in out of the storm. Rope, drinking water, flashlights, tarps, a jury-rigged paddle and anchor, bailing cans and a few sealed foodstuffs were allwe could fit inside once we had crawled into it. Longingly, we looked at thepropane heaters still blasting away, but there was no way we could bringthem along. As it was we were not sure the ‘boat’ would float now. It did not take long to find out. A few hours later our ice floe began tocrack inside the shelter. We positioned our boat right over the lead with thehope that it would plop into the water as the ice floe split farther apart.When it happened, we were caught off guard and got a little wet.Nevertheless, we were relieved to find out the boat floated. The shelteralmost knocked Steve into the water as it pulled apart and collapsed.Thankfully, Bill saw the danger and grabbed him time. At first the water between the small ice floes around us remainedrelatively calm because there was very little water between them, but as theopen water expanded the wave size increased. Realizing the danger of beingswamped Steve paddled us towards a somewhat larger ice floe. When wewere on the leeward side, Bill used our rope and anchor and swung it out onthe ice to secure us. Only with constant vigilance, though, would we keepfrom pulling free. The sky darkened as dusk set in, and with Bill and Steve seeming to haveour somewhat precarious situation under control I retreated into myself.With a rocking boat and the fear of being swamped, sleep was out of thequestion. My thoughts went back to Steve’s words about the “manupstairs”. I had generally ignored the idea of God figuring if I left him alonehe would leave me alone. However, fear of death had knocked me for aloop. Ignoring death now, when it was a very real possibility, seemed to bethe height of stupidity. I had had one Christian friend who tried to point meto the Jesus Christ of the Bible and to him as Savior and Lord. For me,though, it was always later. Don’t interrupt my life I had thought at the time.Maybe later happened to be now. I regretted waiting but bowed my head inprayer hoping beyond hope there was substance in my friend’s beliefs.Reaching in my mind towards heaven I stated my plea: “God, if you are real, if you are there, please hear my cry. I ask you toforgive me of sins because of what Jesus did on the cross and come into my
  3. 3. life.” At that moment peace flooded my soul and somehow I knew we wouldbe okay. Almost as an afterthought I prayed, “And by the way, could youplease rescue us as well?” The dark night dragged on, but now there seemed to be a supernaturalpresence at my side providing comfort. The short hours of the northernspring darkness were still tough to face, but they passed, nevertheless. About an hour after sunrise the storm broke, and a few hours later a CoastGuard helicopter found us. Being airlifted out of the boat brought tremendous relief, but the peacethat surpasses all understanding was greater because it has never left me. Ihave tried to maintain the commitment I made in that boat and not fail theone who has never failed me.

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