I am now thousands of feet above the southern ocean packed in a sea of seats and red jackets. There is an excitement in the air which relates very much to the excitement that exists as the C-17 flies southward in the beginning of the season. People around me are very excited about different food options, the smells of the living world, and the freedom to do what they choose.
I am lucky in that I do not feel burnt out, my job, for the most part is not mundane. I still marvel at getting paid to fly in helicopters to remote locations with one or two other folks to do our work, which often involves climbing and assembling towers and then dealing with tools and hardware sometimes at heights of one hundred feet off the ground. I am one of the lucky ones and do not take it for granted.
So now we fly north leaving behind the schedules and routines of the last three, four, or for some, six months. No more free room each night. No more free food. No more free gas. At the same time, no more scheduled meals, no more alarm clocks, no more 6 day work weeks. At least for a time. Many folks do this year after year, and so their off-ice time becomes just that – their off-ice time.
Yesterday, I went for a wonderful run around Observation Hill. It is a three mile loop that gets one a feeling of being far from the station. It was a favorite of mine this last week as the sea ice was disintegrating more and more with each passing day. How wonderful it is to see the open water in front of the station. It has not opened this much in some ten years! It is amazing what a difference it makes in the feel and energy of a place. The cold frozen continent suddenly becomes a living place. Whose waters connect it to rest of the world. I think, I theoretically, could get in a boat leave the shores of McMurdo and some time later (after lots of adventures) arrive back in Massachusetts! What a splendid idea! The smell of the ocean alone is enough to stop and marvel at the sea. A small whiff sets some neurons or something in my brain firing. McMurdo now included in my memories and experience of being on the sea. What I wouldn’t have done to have a little sailboat to do some exploring and see things from the perspective of the sea. Someday…someday…
During my the run, the wind was so light, I stopped to sit down and look upon the sea. It was warm enough sitting on the volcanic rock of Ob Hill, even in shorts, one long sleeve shirt and a vest, to sit for nearly 20 minutes and enjoy Antarctica around me. The water was making noises like whales as the waves found channels and other features in the ice. Then there were the penguins making noises just as we’ve all become familiar with from watching March of the Penguins. And then of course, the water breaking up the sea, taking one jig saw ice piece after another and quietly pulling it north so new pieces could be pulled. Had I left just a week or so ago, I would have missed the most beautiful part of the season.
The sun finally did set my last two nights. Not until almost 2am, but the darkness at those times (yes, I did wake up to see the light of the sunset) was refreshing. A change of light does wonders for the spirit.
And now a little interruption to look out the window near the rear of the plane. I don’t want to miss the Southern Ocean if the clouds have cleared! … Nothing but clouds below. Someday I shall be there making this off-ice transit on a ship. Someday hopefully, on my own ship!
People around me partake in various activities. Many read, some play with their computers, many sleep and some just stare blankly in front of them at nothing in particular. I’ll later write in my journal, continue monitoring the window at the back, look at other people and wonder about their lives, but mostly look around at the exposed wires and ducts and systems on the inside of the C-17 and then dream from there. So much to learn.
Nighttime, for the last 3 months, has been out of reach. Even though the sun set the last few days, it was for a very short time and it never went very far below the horizon – perhaps not even the 6 degrees necessary to qualify for civil twilight. Darkness lies to the north. And with darkness comes the magic of being able to see past our atmosphere, into the heavens beyond. Trapped have I been these last months. One of the pleasures of climbing mountains or flying in planes or helicopters is being able to see long distances. One of the pleasures of living on Earth is being able to see far beyond it.
North to the night, to the living, to the color green! Thanks for following along!