Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Leaving Pole

My time at pole has finally drawn to a close, and after two more-or-less frantic days of turnover with the incoming SPT people, I'm now safely off the ice and back in New Zealand. Civilization at last. I'll try to write one final post after a couple of weeks back in reality, but for now, just a few words about my departure from pole.

I have to admit, it was much harder than I expected to tear myself away from the station. After living there so long, it was home, even with our winter community shattered amid the influx of summer folks. I tried in vain to convince myself that there was in fact a whole new world out there, oh so much bigger and more exciting that my little existence on the ice, but it was still tremendously difficult to pack and leave everything behind.

Eventually the moment came, and with hugs and well wishes from the new SPT folks and the last few winterovers, I boarded the C130 to Mactown. That afternoon & evening, the polies gathered in our berths to share a bottle of whisky and some cheap wine. Mactown is no place to celebrate your freedom, but that doesn't mean you can't get pleasantly drunk there.

The skin on my hands, which had been a sort of scaly parchment, tearing at every opportunity and never quite healing up, was smooth and supple within 6 hours of landing at sea level, wounds healed, knuckles finally no longer cracked and bleeding. The humidity & warmth in Mactown seemed obscene, and while the locals were dashing through the -12C air and 30 knot winds, giant red parkas pulled tight against the wind, polies wandered happily about in shorts and flip-flops. We smiled at the sun, sniffed the dirt underfoot, and generally looked like a bunch of madmen strolling through town.

Leaving the next day for Christchurch came as a too-long delayed release from captivity. We cheered as the C17 lifted off the ice shelf, though everyone was too hungover to celebrate for long. Most of us spent the flight napping, until we began to descend into NZ. Suddenly a rich, thick, fragrant air filled the cabin. It wasn't the smell of flowers and pollen everyone had suggested we'd smell. It was dirt, plain and simple. The smell of earth has never been quite so beautiful, such a welcome relief.

We landed in Christchurch around 9:30 at night, and after clearing customs, walked over to the CDC to turn in our well-worn ECW. The walk was punctuated by people rolling around on the grass, stopping to smell the bushes (not the flowers, the plants themselves), and generally marvelling at everything that teased our senses.

It's good to be off the ice. I'm sure I'll miss pole eventually, but for now life is very full. Tomorrow I'm off for the botanic gardens, to see trees and watch ducklings paddle about on the river. Hurrah!


Debbie said...

Keith, I have so much enjoyed your blog this year. Your photos were wonderful, particularly the auroras. Thanks for writing ~ Debbie

Johannes said...

Firstly I would like to thank you for your efforts writing this blog! I have read every single post you have written and really enjoyed it.
The pictures are also nice to look at and I would like to put up one of these as a big picture in my living room. I hope you are okay with that.

Greeting and best wishes for your future - Johannes

Molly said...

Welcome back off the Pole . . . see you here in Chicago very soon, Vanderlind-e!