Waking Up

It has felt like waking up out of a dream, that slightly hazy feeling after

a crazy night out, a little disorienting, stretching, opening eyes, rolling

over again and returning to the comfort of covers. Dizzy and perplexed, happy

memories, smiles creeping in upon recollection. And then looking around to see

a familiar landscape, a much loved desert, a place that was once filled with

busyness and now is so empty, so solitary, totally isolated – but not

threatening or scary. I have been in this half dreamworld for most of the week.

I feel as though I’m waking up after a long and restful sleep. Realities of

the otherworld coming back to me like lost memories. They have meant nothing

lately, have had no role in my life.

We had a storm, a big storm. Fast and furious winds, white-out conditions,

snow everywhere. Then we had snow, lots of white fluffy christmassy snow. No,

hang on, the snow came first, then the storm. And all that freshly fallen white

powder swirled around our heads. Stomping through it you could step knee deep.

Normally, it’s like walking on hard ice here. See, even my analogies are referenced

only to themselves. It’s normally like styrofoam, crunchy and squeaky to walk

on. This fluffy stuff was like blancmange, like the soggy snow we get at home

but dry. Just powder snow and air. You couldn’t tell how far your foot would

sink at any placement.

And then the storm. And then the lull. That was an eerie day. In the morning,

40 knot winds, Vanessa and I clinging to a handline. By lunchtime the flags

were drooping and it was flat calm. We even saw stripes of blue sky to the west.

For an amazing half hour we saw the antarctic plateau to the south. I thought

about turning the telescope on again to measure molecules to the east but by

the time we did, clouds had rolled in again. Craig flew a kite and nearly lost

his arm when it took off. The boys moved skidoos and shifted wood from the dump

line. Everyone was out and about. Steph and I hadn’t been able to get to the

lab for three days and we ran out there hoping nothing had been too neglected.

Vanessa came out to check the met equipment, Simon appeared to back-up computers.

It was a mysterious day outside. You could feel the storm systems near-by over-head.

What was coming next? Were we in the eye of the storm, or had it passed. Look

at the satellite photos. We were between two swirling systems, swirling madly

above our heads. By 6pm, the winds were increasing again and the following day

we were back at 30 knot winds. I kept blinking. It was so bright outside, so

white. It’s time for squinting and shades. Really bright and no contrast. Nothing

but white in every direction. Where are we?! If you look carefully you can see

the shape of the peninsula curving down the left hand side, the Weddel Sea in

the middle and then the Brunt Ice Shelf (where I live) going off to the right.

I think the next day was a Friday and winds dropped gradually throughout the

day. In the evening I stayed in the caboose again. It seems so close to base

now that you can see it from the window. I understand why some people, most

people here, don’t see the point in going there. All the flags and drums seem

like overkill. Was there really a time when we couldn’t find it for what felt

like hours?! And the caboose was so warm! How odd in the morning to not have

to reach for the matches and tilly lamp before doing anything else, to be woken

by daylight. How much simpler that makes everything!

Saturday was calm and clear. Huge mirages of icebergs dominated the view to

the north-east, the plateau rising to the south incredibly clear. Is that really

land, so high? Are we really living on a moving ice shelf?! Ludicrous existence!

Sastrugi still cast long shadows, patches in the snow. At first the memorial

looked like a pyramid tent, so did a tarped-up skidoo and a red flag in the

distance. There is no sense of perspective. I kept looking around – what’s

this? What’s that?! The refuelling depot looks strangely like the Shackleton

returning to pick us up. You can see all around, a perfect flat circle, restricted

only by the curvature of the earth. There is so much to see, my eyes aren’t

used to this much information. Ironic: when I first came here the same landscape

struck me as incredibly empty. I remarked on how little there was to focus on.

Saturday night there was a themed party, come as your favourite star. I guess

I should have come as Sirius but Tank Girl was much more fun. Lots of costumes,

special food, the last big party before post-winter trips begin. At the end

of the night we watched Human Traffic and I was pulled back into the world of

nightclubs heaving with bodies, Saturday nights in Britain.

Felix has been writing about Critical Mass, about protests on the streets of

New York. Thousands of people in one small space? What was once my reality is

now almost incomprehensible to me. I share a huge section of ice shelf with

17 other humans and a couple of penguin colonies. We don’t come into contact

with political strife on a global level. The news-sheet this morning talked

about people being massacred in a school in Russia. How have I missed this story

completely? I hurriedly looked through the last week of papers printed off and

there were a few lines each day, a couple of paragraphs in the last couple of

days, but still less coverage than the Royals or Beckham ever get. I would have

missed it completely a couple of months ago. I am waking up, see.

Sunday, another glorious calm day and we played golf in the afternoon. My first

time ever holding a golf club! I can’t very well shout hatred at the principle

here for its not as though woods are being clear-cut for the sport! It was fun,

great to get out and about for a change. I stepped through a motion of Tai Chi

and started growing sprouts again. In the evening we had a small fire. It’s

a beautiful place to wake up, Antarctica, and I’ve had a lovely dream.

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2 Responses to Waking Up

  1. Jean Sinclair says:

    Hi Rhian

    Love your comment about guilt free golf in a treeless place. I’ve just spent part of the weekend collecting off target golf balls which ended up in Wandlebury Country Park. Funnily enough, no-one replied when I tried to sell the 20 I had previously collected when I advertised them on BAS intranet. Just had my holiday in Scotland cancelled, because RSLA is off on another research cruise, delaying his return to Cambridge, so hope you’ll have an excellent post midwinter trip & write about it.

  2. James McConnachie says:

    Hello there. Hope you’re keeping warm now.

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