Moai on Easter Island

Moai on Easter Island

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Upon Leaving The Ice

I often talk to people who tell me how lucky I am to travel or how they wish that they could.  Almost anyone can travel if they really want to.  They just have to be willing to cut those strings that are holding them in place.  That can be uncomfortable to do, but often worth it.  

A Weddell Seal rests in front of the Barne Glacier.

The citizens of Antarctica have quite a different view on traveling.  I've never met so many people without an excuse to drop everything (or most things) and travel.  Sure there are some people that go down there just for the money or just to get out of debt, but most of them go down there for the adventure and the excuse to travel afterward.  It is refreshing to not hear excuses as to why they can't travel. Instead of dreaming of places to go, Antarcticans are always planning the next trip.

McMurdo Sound, Antarcitca

I've been back in New Zealand for five days now and Antarctica seems like a dream.  It is as if the rest of the world has stood still for the last year, but while I was on the ice for what seemed like forever--just like in the Chronicles of Narnia.  As strange as it sounds this was one of my major realizations of getting off the ice: the rest of the world continued to work while I was in McMurdo.

This year's last field work for me in Antarctica: delivering cargo across McMurdo Sound to Marble Point.

My reintroduction hasn’t been as extreme as I expected it.  I had months to think about how shocked I was going to be and I’ve been let down.  Everything just feels normal again.  I’m not looking forward to this grand moment when I see a tree again.  I’m simply back.  I was hoping for more.  I do walk around grocery stores in more of a daze than I used to and it took me about 20 minutes to pick out a bag of coffee on my second day back.  I know everyone is moving faster than me, but I was hoping to be more uncomfortable in such a situation.  I even feel like I have a purpose when I walk into the produce section. 

Akaroa, New Zealand
Managing my own newfound freedom has been hard to re-learn to do.  After 14 months of working 9+ hours a day six days a week I have forgotten how to do what I want to do.  I am in luck however because most of what I want to do is just cook and eat and enjoy “new” sounds and walk around and enjoy “new” views. 

Akaroa, New Zealand
While thoroughly enjoying walking through the forest and grassy fields I find myself reluctant to touch too many plants.  I have an undying urge to hug every tree I see and feel every leaf but I am afraid to.  I am afraid that they will disappear between my fingers or turn into the fake office plants that are scattered around McMurdo.  I don't want that disappointment.

The garden of the hostel I stayed at in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The absolute scariest part of my re-entry has been learning how to walk.  Throw me in the middle of an icy road with shoes that don’t have any traction and I can do just fine.  But now that I’m trying to negotiate muddy trails with slick wet grassy I am doomed.  I haven’t fallen on my ass yet, but have been very close many times.  I went for a hike in the hills above Akaroa yesterday and on my way down I would stop at the top of every steep muddy section the same way any other person would stop at a rocky precipice or an icy cliff.  Then I’d try to plan a decent route and walk down bent at the waste taking each timid step with the hopes that I wouldn’t slide to the bottom.  With each slip I’d throw my arms up in the air in a theatric dance move in a feeble attempt to stay on my feet.

Akaroa at night.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Places I Call Home

This peninsula has been my home for the last 14 months.  McMurdo is tucked in out of sight and the end of the land.
I am usually able to pretty quickly feel at home in most places.  I've developed this ability over a few years of traveling and guiding in places all over North and South America and never staying more than a month or so in one place and am pretty happy with this skill.  While I am always longing a real home I am usually pretty content with wherever I am.

Mount Erebus on a particularly active day.
Sometimes this home is a tent in a backyard in Anchorage, Alaska, a hostel in Puerto Montt, Chile, wherever my old van was parked or in a tent at 19,000 feet on a mountain.  Lately my home has been a dorm room at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

Mount Erebus framed in a pressure ridge on the west side of McMurdo Sound.

Antarctica is a strange place to call home, but for the last 14 months this has been my home.  The people and the landscape have drawn me in for much longer than I could have ever imagined when I arrived here.  I've been reflecting on this as I enter my last week on this continent.  I'm not sure how much I have changed in the last year since the place around me hasn't changed.  I think I'm usually pretty aware of changes within myself since I am the only thing that is slowly changing while everything else around me seems to be on a faster pace.  I know I'm not the same person I was when I arrived here over a year ago, but I'm not yet sure what is different.  Months of constant sunlight and darkness and no living things certainly takes a toll on a person, but I won't know that toll until I get back to something different than this.

The Erebus Glacier Tongue and the Dellbridge Island from Ross Island.
I will miss the people and this little "town." But it is time to leave.  It is time to close the longest chapter and see what the next pages have to hold.  It is time to go swim in the ocean for the first time ever.

Chunks of ice and the Wilson Piedmont Glacier at Marble Point across McMurdo Sound from McMurdo Station.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Some Colors of Antarctica

The US Antarctic Program didn’t shut down after all.  Luckily there was about a week of bad weather and the program received its funding before everyone was sent home.  I wouldn’t have minded a few days vacation in Christchurch, but I’m still glad to be here.

Everything almost seems back to normal now.  Everyone on station is really busy trying to catch up on all the missed work and science groups are scrambling to get into the field.

Tent Island during a rare calm and snowy day.

If seems as though winter never happened. I feel like I got here last summer and right now this summer is just a continuation of that season with a short dark dream in between.  The colors of the night sky are gone.  The oranges and pinks of the endless sunrise are gone.  I'm just left with the white of the snow and the blue of the sky.

Replacing a track on the Hagglund on the sea ice.
The "human colors" of Antarctica.

Penguins don't seem like very smart animals and I wonder if part of the reason for that is because they don't have much colorful stimulation in their lives.  If there isn't much brain stimulation why would there be a reason for the brain to develop further?  I think that is what happens to the people that work down here in the winter.  I certainly feel dumber after the winter.  There isn't much color stimulation besides the color black.  McMurdo is full of color though--the only other colors on this continent are machines and buildings.  

Antarctica without "human colors"
Raised Penguin Tracks

The color green is what I miss the most though.  Only three more weeks until I get to experience that.  I will truly miss this place and have a huge case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) on the rest of the season down here. But when the time comes I'll will have been here for 14 months and it will be time to leave before I'm as dumb as a penguin.