Monday, February 9, 2009


I hadn't planned on writing any further updates to this blog, but three months after escaping to New Zealand, I find myself back at pole. This time my visit's only for two weeks - I'm here to train next year's SPT winterovers - but I think I've got enough pole-related material to write about to justify one final post.

Stepping off the plane and back onto the well-known ice field was a surreal moment. Walking toward the station, up the oh-so-familiar stairs, down the halls I once wandered aimlessly through the night: the ice-bound world, without moisture or smells, was eerily familiar, and strangely comforting.

Everything was exactly as I remembered it, only completely different. There was a tremendous feeling of deja-vu, as if I had just walked into a world I'd only seen in a dream. It was a homecoming, only I found my house redecorated and my family and friends replaced by strangers.

It's hard to believe that it was only 3 months ago that my winter drew to a close. So much has happened in the interim, so many lives lived in miniature, so much seen and so much changed. It feels as if I'm returning to pole not mere months after leaving, but years.

The expanded sense of time is probably the result of the year of slow-motion winterover life: returning to the real world, events fly at you so frequently, with such rapidity, that the days seem impossibly full, too eventful for 24 short hours. Somehow it just seems more likely that, as at pole, there is a full year between sunrises.

I do have to admit to a certain awkwardness in the first weeks of my off-ice life. I've spoken with many of last year's winterovers, and everyone seems to agree: something in the lives we left behind just didn't seem quite right when we returned. The best description I've heard is that you feel like a visitor to your own life. With old friends, co-workers, even family, we just don't quite fit anymore.

Even now, several long months later, I find myself more comfortable in the company of winterovers than with my oldest and best friends. Many of the others have been traveling to and fro across the US, seeking each other out, just to enjoy a meal or a drink together. Those who visited family over the holidays tell tales of retreating to their bedrooms, sitting happily and wanting nothing more than to stare at the wall in peace for a couple of hours. Pole didn't break me down quite that much, but I'll admit that I see the appeal of the idea.

Now that I've been back on the ice for a solid week, I've settled into a new way of doing things. My mind has accepted that this isn't winter pole, and I'm living comfortably as a summer-winter hybrid, still spending more time in my room than anywhere else, but friendly and outgoing with the summer folks. I'm not fooling anyone - a blind man can spot a winterover from across the room down here - but I am happy, neither reliving my old life, nor fretting about the future; life at pole really is wonderfully simple.

Coming back down here has somehow allowed me to finally box up the winter and put it behind me, as an incredible experience, one that I wouldn't trade for anything. All the memories that faded so quickly when I got to New Zealand have been gently reasserting themselves, prompted by the familiar surroundings, and my winter at pole is beginning to settle in as just another year in my life. A unique one, granted, but neither seminal, nor one that I need to pretend never happened.

It's good to be back at pole, but this isn't really home anymore. It's time to move on, maybe settle down for a bit back in the real world.


Anonymous said...

I would like to thank you for all the updates in this blog. It was fascinating to follow your updates through the night and I learned many interesting things about the pole. Thank you and farewell!

Agent J said...

I'll second the above comment.

I do recall a feeling that could be described in a similar way when I returned from an exchange trip in my teens. I was a farm kid, and returning to that life after those experiences was very difficult.

akopacsi said...

Do you know about anybody writing a blog during the upcoming winter at the station? It'd be great if you could post a link here.
Regards from Hungary

Pablo (yo) said...

Great blog!!!
If you like, come back and visit mine:

Pablo from Argentina

Atomikrabbit said...

I stumbled late onto this extraordinary blog. Thank you for sharing the experience. My daughter is a third-year at U of C, so I know, over and above the achievements of Enrico Fermi, what an amazing school it is.

Did you know that a nuclear reactor once powered the station at McMurdo, obviating the logistics required for transporting, storing, and burning 1100 tons of diesel fuel each year?

I’m glad to see there are still a few scientist/explorer/poet/photographers left. Hope that cosmetology thing goes well for you…