I’ve experienced a new dawn today. Seriously – my own Spring has sprung.
I’m so relieved. Yesterday, the sun set for the last time until August and I
think, in retrospect, that I have been feeling a bit down lately. Not depressed
but definitely apprehensive.
May-the-first: a date whispered amongst friends for a few weeks, a day we have
ritual and ceremony, a day we will party, the day when Winter truly begins.
This is what defines the overwintering antarctic experience at Halley. From
here on it will get colder and darker. The sun will set for the last time in
Last week I was on night duty on the Laws platform. It was great – I’m
a night owl anyway, and having the space and peace of an empty base was a delight.
We overlapped in mornings and evenings, I was part of the activity but somehow
an observer, an onlooker, a step slightly to the outside of the community bubble.
The main purpose of nightshift is to be on-call. To be alert, awake, sober
and There, should any emergencies arise or, more hopefully, to prevent emergencies
arising. There’s also a little bit of cleaning and washing to be done as well
as weather observations sent to the Met Office at 3am and 6am to help forecasting
models. My favourite job, however, was bread-making. It’s ironic that I have
to come to the end of the world to appreciate simple joys in life that we can
have anywhere. Making bread for your 17 compatriots is a contribution, a service,
a nice thing to do, but also something that will be remembered, however the
bread turns out. Thankfully for me, the only criterion for passable bread seems
to be its toastability in the morning.
So the for last week of sun, I was asleep. When I woke up it was dark, when
I went to sleep it was dark. Really pitch black dark. The sun was to set at
the end of this week and I thought I had missed it forever. I started thinking
about the sun, and how much I have enjoyed watching it circle my head. The summer
days, perpetual light, circling, circling, so bright you need to wear shades
at midnight. The first sunsets, skimming the horizon, beautiful reds at 2am
if you’re still awake for them. The segregation of night and day, our first
planet, first star, the moon, auroras and the milky way. But days still light
and bright. New atmospheric phenomena with each progression of the cycle. Mirages,
sundogs, fogbows, sun pillars. I will miss the sun. I’ll miss it a lot. I tried
to convince myself that the moon and stars and darkness will hold new mysteries
and wonders but that elation, that joy you feel when you see fresh sunlight,
I can’t believe they can fulfill this role.
This is the onset of darkness, of winter, of temperatures too cold to enjoy
being outside when we have to create our own entertainment to keep spirits high.
May will be ok, and June, as this is still the run up to midwinter: Festivities
on Ice. But what about after that? July, August? What will we do then when the
novelty has worn off, fresh food will have run out and there will be no new
visitors until December? Did I not think about this before coming here?
I woke up today refreshed for the first time after shifting my body clock back
to days. A lovely lazy Sunday feeling on base. People sitting around the table
after a traditional Sunday brunch fry-up, laughing and cringing at photos from
the night before. It’s light outside. Folk on melt-tank duty get togged up to
go digging. Someone looks out of the window and says there’s a great sunset
happening. He’s right. I go outside to take some photos and go for a walk. It’s
beautiful. The sun might have set, but it’s shining a stunning red light up
onto the clouds with all its energy and they’re reflecting that light back down
on us. A red pillar of light on the horizon, held there for hours. The sun hasn’t
gone. The sun hasn’t gone! There is still light, there is still laughter, there
are still beautiful sights to behold. It’s gonna be ok. It’s going to be better
than ok, it’s going to be glorious.
I come inside for a cup of tea and see that my sprouted mung beans have gone
nuts. They’ve grown leaves and roots and stalks and everything. They’re huge!
Where can all this matter have come from? Just from a little dry bean, some
water and some light. There is life after sunset. Lots of life.