I’m having a party tonight and you’re all invited. I hope you can make it –
it would be cool to see some new faces for an evening, a novelty you could say.
Not that we’re bored of the faces that are here… it would just be a change.
Anyway, I’m having a house-party, at my home, and I’d love you to be there.
You can take the number thirty-two bus and ask the driver to drop you off at
the corner… he normally doesn’t mind as it’s fairly friendly in these parts.
Not like in the big smoke. There’s plenty of room to crash if you want to stay
for the weekend too.
I think we’ll have pizza and I’m hoping for a chocolate cake … I’ve dropped
enough hints ("what would you like for your birthday, Rhian?"- "Chocolate
cake") but you never can be sure about these things. I’m pretty sure that
Scorpio will be there, and the moon, but I’ve unfortunately been seeing less
and less of Orion lately. I miss him but know he’s out there still, keeping
watch over me. It’s funny – the light seems to have returned surprisingly
fast and I already miss the midday stars. I loved the peace of permanent night.
Others on base are reborn though since midwinter has passed – it’s like
you can visibly see them re-enthuse with every extra photon of light we receive,
each lengthened hour.
I remember the first day when the sky was so red and clear that I could see
the Rumples again. I’d forgotten there was a horizon you could focus on… odd
to have my immediate surroundings expand so suddenly. But in another way they
have shrunk, back down to an earthly proportion: now I see distant buildings
and coastline features where previously I saw stars and other galaxies. Don’t
forget there are other days when you can’t see beyond your outstretched arm,
but that happens year-round. It is all magical.
We went outside at 2pm today (for melt-tank and photos) and were amazed how
light it was – you wouldn’t even think of taking a torch on this weather.
There was a light dusky blue in every direction and faint hint of red to the
north. Not a stunning National Geographic type day but a lovely day, a normal
day, a day when I appreciate how much I like being here. It’s 3:30pm now and
thankfully dark again. This is the Halley I love the best.
What makes me smile is realising that eight weeks ago, in exactly the same
light conditions, I was commenting on how short the days were. Now it’s the
nights that are getting shorter. Soon we’ll be living in day and night and that
ordinariness of diurnal variation will return. And after that, the midnight
sun and sunglasses 24-7. It’s all happening very quickly, but maybe I’m just
entering that time of year again when the changes are most noticeable. We still
have four or five months before the first plane arrives and about eight before
we get home, so I needn’t worry that it’ll go by too quickly. I just don’t want
to miss anything along the way.
aurora (written at 4am, very sleepy)
There is an impression that down here we see auroras, haloes and sundogs the
whole time. So much so that we become almost passé about them – yet another
aurora lighting my way to the lab, the antarctic street lamps.
Not so. I have now seen two or three stunners and a couple of cloud-like wisps
during my time here. They almost always happen at night and some years more
vividly than others. This year has not been prolific in its atmospheric light
shows. We have an ‘aurora wake-up list’ on the wall of the mess room but until
last night it has only been used once before.
This morning the night watchman woke me at 3am: "Rhian, there’s a bit
of an aurora outside, it’s not amazing but it’s something". When I got
outside I was glad to have got up but he was right – it was cool but not
To start with.
There was a big streak to the north stretching horizontally across the sky,
with patches above it, as though dabbed onto the night canvas afterwards with
a dry, short-bristled brush. To the south were also a few patchy clouds of light.
As my eyes began to adjust, so too did the light. The patches became swirls,
the clouds, spirals, before dissolving back into the night sky or metamorphosing
into a duller version of its former self. The whole sky had these patches of
light on a dark background. To orient myself, I located Scorpio and the southern
cross, unusually far to the west (to my work-day eye) which shone out bright
on the pitch black background. For a while I gazed at the stars, forgetting
the aurora completely. It was a beautiful night even without these light clouds.
As my nose was getting colder and I started thinking of going in, the light
show began to kick off. Patches expanded and flickered in the brightness like
a pulsating dance of light in the sky, and as they pulse, the seem to draw together
to an apex above our heads, the top of a cone from which luminescent light then
starts to pour. It’s dazzling. The whole sky gets filled with this smoke, pouring
in between me and Scorpio, forming a veil of light around the atmosphere of
the Earth. This is an earthly dance, like clouds: you can feel how much closer
it is than the stars. The bursts to the south that were formerly patches above
the CASLab have formed an S-swirl now and the stripe to the north grown to fill
the whole sky, not linear any more, organic.The intensity is always varying,
flickering, moving around the hovering light patches, adding brightness here,
dissolving the veil there. The movement makes me laugh out loud. Dynamic. Alive.
But very much an atmospheric phenomenon. A dance of wispish light in the sky.
I celebrated my thirtieth birthday last week, it was great. Thirty in Antarctica!
Thankyou for the emails, the good wishes, the cards and letters that missed
the post, the presents unwrapped when I was still 28,- a guitar, a watch, a
big birthday hug. I’ve been looking forward to this so much it’s amazing that
any celebration would suffice. But it was brilliant. I went out to the caboose
on Tuesday night and stayed until Thursday morning. Different people joined
me at different times and for a few blissful hours I was alone as well, in a
caboose, in antarctica on my birthday. Who could ask for more?! If I could,
I think I would live in a caboose forever. Maybe I’ll have to find a caravan
or boat when I get back. Maybe these places are all an essence of the same place.
And to have an impromptu party out there was even better. I haven’t been able
to have people ‘pop by’ for years now and I suddenly realised how much I missed
that. "Would you like to pop by for dinner?" I asked over the radio
and that night Vanessa, Steph, Frank, Craig and Jeff all appeared at different
times to share different parts of the evening’s celebrations. Steph, bless him,
even brought a bottle of bubbly and some glasses out there. So all that is missing
now from this week of celebrations is a chocolate cake.. and that, I think,
might be my special treat tonight.
Hope to see you later!