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here comes the sun

It’s 11:00 at night when I step out of the coffee house with Andre, Justin, and Sky.  We’ve spent the last half hour or so cozied up to the wooden, paneled bar, chatting, spinning on our bar stools, enjoying the selection of NZ and Aussie wines and trading banter with Dave the bartender.  It’s way past my bedtime, but that’s getting to be par for the course.  It’s a reasonably still night, noticeably quiet after the roar and whine of last week’s Condition Two storminess.  Andre points to the southwestern sky.  “Look,” he says: a bright orange glow simmers on the horizon beneath low purple clouds and illuminates Mt. Discovery from behind.  The sun is on its way.

It’s been six weeks.  It feels like forever.  Long enough that this bizarre place has begun to feel comfortable and familiar.  Normal.  Just in time for everything to change.  The time period known as “winfly” (“winter flight” – six weeks during which the ice runway is built and town is prepared for the bustle of the summer season) came to a smooth but sudden halt early this afternoon when the first C-17 of mainbody touched down.  It circled once, a tiny black bird that grew steadily larger as it approached.  I stood with several others on Hut Point and applauded when the wheels made contact with the blue stretch of sea ice two miles outside of town.  The applause was both heartfelt and sarcastic.  We cheered the skill of the pilots and the excitement of watching planes land on a frozen ocean in Antarctica, and we grimaced as we thought of the one hundred souls who were about to be released on us.  One hundred people today, another hundred tomorrow…by Saturday our population will have almost tripled.  Life is about to get exponentially more interesting.

The night at the coffee house was perhaps a week ago; each night since has grown progressively brighter.  The continent awakes, gradually easing out of winter hibernation.  People are keeping track of “firsts”: first blue sky; first day of positive degrees on the thermometer; first time sunglasses are necessary; first seal sighted outside of town.  Among the firsts and the excitement, another population is counting the “lasts.”  The winter-overs, the last of the winter workforce, are saying their goodbyes, making their peace, preparing to reenter the world.  Some have been here for six months, others twelve, and a few awe-inspiring folks are tallying their fourteenth straight month on the ice.  I, the FNG, watch the behavior patterns and interactions, understanding only a fraction of the emotions that emanate from their faces in visible waves.

Winter, or the idea of spending a winter here is a compelling consideration.  I’m being seduced by the bonds that I see among the community of winter-overs.  Andre (a twelve-monther: http://mcpenguin.livejournal.com) has given me the singular, weighty blessing of being “A Groovy Person,” a distinction which acts as a passcode and allows me entrance to the winter-over clubhouse.  These kids rock.  If wintering in Antarctica means I get to hang with these guys and others like them for six solid months, sign me up.  They’re not friends; they’re family.  The love is a perceptible thing; it’s the sunshine that brightens the six months of night.  The allure of these relationships is offset by a certain sense of pain and awfulness.  These are not easy bonds to break, and as I’ve been told on several occasions, Antarctica is about goodbyes.  It’s hard to describe.  Although, I don’t feel that I have the right to discuss the pain of separation.  I’ve been here for a mere six weeks.  The sadness I felt today as I watched the first twenty departees board the bus to the runway is laughable when I see the tears, the embraces, the brave clasping of hands.

I seem to be living a life of extremes.  It is exhausting.  Joy to sorrow, contentment to anxiety, calm to stress.  Each day runs the gamut.  One day feels like four; a week is a lifetime.  It is fitting, however, to live this way, in this place.  There’s a sticker sold in the shop here that reads: “It’s a harsh continent.”  Yes.

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