Seeing Anew: How Serving on a Selection Panel Changed My Perspective

John R. Killacky

Recently I served as a panelist for the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. Forty-nine applicants wanted to be embedded in scientific research teams. They sought to explore the ethos, mythologies, and realities of this extraordinary continent.

Composers wanted to listen to the wind, water, animals, and shifting ice. Visual artists hoped to delve into infinite striations of whiteness: the effects of transparency on ice, the glitter of ice crystals, and light and shadow patterns on the surface and internal features of the frozen landscape.

Photographers and documentarians were drawn to the heroics of transformative research under such harsh conditions. Poets and writers wanted to go with a blank page free of hypothesis. Choreographers aspired to locate themselves in the overwhelming immensity of endless horizons.

My panel duty did not ignite a travel-lust of my own for Antarctica; instead I have been inspired by these artists to pay more attention to my own home environment. Seeing anew, I observe how the longer days continually shift the light in the woods behind our town house to reveal an ever-evolving panorama. I never realized before, just how many different kinds of birds live there even in winter.

Melting icicles are both prism and metronome. Falling snow showcases infinite variety and tasting snowflakes is fun. Savoring the sweet smell of hay and grain at the barn is delightful and I embrace late night sounds at home: the cat purring, the dog whimpering in her sleep, and Larry’s breathing.

At the gym as I swim laps, I count three strokes to a breath, forty seconds to a wall, twenty laps to the finish. The discipline is both mental and physical. I’m amazed at how time and effort can expand and contract. Some days my exercise is effortless and time flies by, other days my workout is arduous and endless. Focusing the mind seems harder than the swim.

At work, the sounds of music, dance, and theater classes seep through the walls of my office, and they’re enlivening, not distracting. Through my window, I observe people in City Hall Park, and realize that I hurry past most of them every day without acknowledgement or recognition. So now on my walks, I try to make eye contact and practice a few more hellos.

It’s nice not to have to go all the way to Antarctica to find a deeper relationship with my surroundings and self.

I’m so glad to be home, and living more deeply right here in Vermont.