Departing

Written by Walt Rhodes
Monday, May 19, 2014

Walt RhodesAs I close the pages to Chapter 5 of one of the Magic Tree House books, our 8-year-old daughter is doggedly fighting the Sandman. It is a kid-on-Christmas-Eve-waiting-up-for-Santa effort. She is struggling because she knows once she wakes up for school in the morning her daddy won’t be home. She tugs me closer as her eyelids fall.

Everyone participating in the spring survey leaves kids, spouses, girlfriends and boyfriends, aging parents, and loveable pets at home for a few weeks. None of us are immune to this reality. I remember one of my colleagues recounting how his young kids hated to see his long-time observer show up at his house before the survey because they knew it meant dad was leaving soon.

If only the benchmarks for time were the same. While it doesn’t make it any easier, adults at least know there’s an end to the survey. Kids, on the other hand, believe the survey ends “a hundred years” from now. Facetime and Skype, something the forefathers of this survey didn’t have nearly 60 years ago, will help lessen the sting of loneliness for everyone.

Departing is the hardest part of the job to me. I process thousands of tasks and thoughts every day when doing this job. Everything from the go/no-go decision to begin a flight, to securing lodging and transportation, to evaluating terrain clearance, to identifying ducks and constantly monitoring weather and plane performance, to wondering whether the water heater is going to blow up at home. But none of these myriad examples is tougher than leaving my family.

It’s ironic that Jack and Annie are in the Antarctic in this book. If the forecast for the morning holds I will be heading towards the other pole. My adventure on the survey always seems to have a little magic involved too, and it always works to make the joy of coming home seem like the feeling of departing was a long time ago.