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this is major tom to ground control

I feel I should begin this entry with a moment of silence.

Perhaps two.

Maybe three moments will allow me to collect my thoughts and begin to put words to the last week.  In this quiet time, imagine that you cannot speak.  You can barely even think.  When you look out the window there is nothing but cold white ice and blowing white snow.  Pointy, steep black hills encircle your field of vision for a full 360 degrees.  The light is bright, but dusky.  Or is it dawn-like?  It’s noon.  It could go either way.  Gray.  The sun is out there, but still well below the horizon.  You haven’t seen blue sky for a week.  A haze of snow or cloud hangs over the ice-covered sound on the edge of town, obscuring the view and adding to the sense of isolation.  You’re in a cocoon of white and gray, a tiny snow globe of humanity.  The only humans in the world.

It’s impossible to be excited, or even awestruck, because it is impossible to grasp any sense of geography or landscape.  I could be anywhere.  It’s only a small voice in my head that tries to remind me that I’m in Antarctica, but I barely hear it.  I’m struggling.  With the start of work and the departure of the last flight (no way out until October), I’ve lost perspective.  “Antarctica” is only a word, a name, no longer imbued with magic and wonder and excitement.  It’s just a place, the place where I will be for the next six months.  Six months.  Suddenly that sounds like a very, very long time, and I hate myself for already counting down the days when I will be back in NZ, with Lumir.  I’ve fallen from my traveling state of zen.  I’m not myself.  “This is the opportunity of a lifetime!” I tell myself.  “This is adventure!  This is my ticket to lifelong travel!”  Like the blows of a hammer inside a soundproof room, those statements of fact go on unheard.  It will get better.  It has to.  And since I have no option but to sit tight and ride it out, well, that’s what I’m going to do.  But it’s hard.

Sunday, a week and two days ago now, the day I left Christchurch and flew to the end of the world, was the most surreal day of my entire life.  It’s possible that I actually expended my entire capacity for excitement and awe on that one day and now have no reserves to call up, which would explain my current low.  We flew on a C17, an enormous US Air Force cargo plane.  The back half of the plane was all pallets of luggage, “freshies” (fresh fruits and veggies), and supplies.  The middle was actual airline seats, five across, though I opted for one of the black plastic and canvas jump seats that ran along the side of the aircraft.  The high ceilings in the open fuselage exposed colorful pipes, machinery, wires and metal structures, and the lack of insulation allowed us to take in each and every decibel of the four huge wing engines.  Three small porthole windows, one in each side door, which I visited every time I stood up to wander and stretch my legs.  At first, just clouds and the occasional glimpse of dark blue ocean.  As we got closer, however, the word spread that there was a view to be had.  I was expecting water and maybe some icebergs…oh, my god.  I stuck my face into the porthole and what I saw literally took my breath away.  My eyes bugged, my jaw dropped.  Mountains.  Ice.  Snow.  Even from 30,000 feet, the wind-carved patterns in the snow were visible.  You can’t imagine it.  I can’t describe it.  Surreal.  Like another planet.  So removed from anything I’ve ever known or experienced…you just can’t imagine it.  Landing, because I couldn’t see any windows from my seat, was a practice in using senses other than sight.  Was that a bump?  Have we touched down?  Are the engines firing up or running down?  The same anticipation was visible, tangible, shooting like sparks from person to person, oldies and FNGs alike.  Atlas, sitting next to me, smiled and spoke in my ear: “It will be unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.”  Like a prophecy, or a blessing.  And then, finally, YES, we have landed.  The crew ran around, securing landing gear, opening the back cargo hatch for speedy unloading.  My breath plumed in front of me.  The passenger door was opened.  Like the David Bowie song, “Space Oddity” – “This is Major Tom to ground control / I’m stepping through the door.”  And then I was standing, putting one bunny boot in front of the other, grasping the railings on the airplane door, not daring to look up until I’d actually set foot onto the ground, and then…Antarctica.  -23 degrees Fahrenheit, -60 windchill.  I spun in a circle, trying to take it all in, seeing only white, trucks, people in red parkas, my breath clouding and dispersing.  “And I’m floating in the most peculiar way / And the stars look very different today…”

Since then.  Riding the learning curve roller coaster.  Learning my job, meeting people, training my staff.  Trying to acclimate, somehow, in some small way.  Trying to stay positive, to have fun, to find the good things.  Good things so far: the people.  Wonderful.  I had been concerned that I was going to be living with Americans, but I needn’t have worried.  Ice people seem to be a race unto themselves: generous, kind, fun, friendly, interesting, open-minded.  I’ve noticed that most people here look and behave about ten years younger than they actually are.  I’ve given up trying to guess ages; it doesn’t matter here.  We’re all equals, friends.  There are only 395 of us; it’s in our best interest to emphasize similarities over differences.  Other good things…well, they’ll come in time.  I went for a hike today.  And now I’m going to try to find the greenhouse, to see if the rumors of a hammock are true.  More details of daily life to come.  Today is my day off, and I refuse to think or write about work.

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