chilling feet

chilling feet

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Endless Night is Over: The South Pole and Some Sun

(Not the best picture but these are some of the first glimpses of sunlight)
Almost every day, I walk to work outside. It is a fairly short walk, and while there have been one or two days I was not happy about being outdoors, for the most part I am attributing this to being a big part of what has been getting me through the Winter. Even on the worst days, there has been something refreshingly nice about a little clean air and an abruptly brisk wake up. It is hard to feel asleep after a nice morning Antarctic embrace.

The best part about walking outside has always been the nighttime displays of astronomical delights such as auroras, the bright Milky Way, the moon (with some of its random displays as well such as moon-pillars), the Southern Cross, and other such wonderful sights. I have borrowed plenty of pictures from our shared drive and posted them on this blog in previous posts. They were all random and we never really knew when they would happen. There are the weather reports and even sometimes helpful alerts to let everyone know there was a massive aurora storm happening, but by the time a person can get suited up and out the door they were occasionally gone as quickly as they came. This is why a person just needs to get outside randomly as you just never know what might be happening out there.

As wonderful as it was to witness all of these phenomenon of the Antarctic night sky, nothing quite prepared me for my walk to work last week. I walked out of the back door from our berthing rooms as normal. I had one eye shut to help acclimate my eyes to the darkness more quickly. I was then arrested on the top of the stairs, as I began look around and see that upon the horizon was the faintest hint of sunlight! The sun had begun taking back a little bit of the Antarctic night. I felt excited - this meant we were one more step closer to going home! I felt a slight feeling of awe - how many people have seen the first rays of the sun as it starts to slowly creep back up over the South Pole after a long winter's night? I felt a feeling of... disappointment - as I looked around and took in the faint sunlight, I also looked up and noticed there was something missing. The Milky Way was gone!

I have been waiting for the sun to come back. We all have been waiting for this momentous occasion. Without the sun the weather will not be accommodating enough for frequent fights in and out of the South Pole. This drastic change in our South Pole experience is vital to fresh food, to departing, and to life. And yet there was a part of me that was inexplicably sad when I realized I could not gaze deep into the core of our galaxy's center any longer. I had grown so accustomed to taking quick looks up into the Milky Way on my walks to work, that now I felt a loss I did not anticipate. I looked desperately for my favorite constellation, the Southern Cross, and it was thankfully still there. But for how long? I knew this change meant the auroras would be less and less visible as the sunlight forged its way across the sky, and I was pretty sure I could deal with their loss. Yet there I stood, and mixed with all of my other emotions was an unforeseen sorrow.

Don't get me wrong. I am filled with a high sense of expectation and energy upon having seen the sun. It has revitalized a part of me that is ready to see family and friends, to travel, to eat fresh food, and to do all of the other things I have been missing while we have been at the South Pole. It may be the case, however, that we never return to this place. Looking back, it is likely that I have spent my last Antarctic night staring into the crystal clear Milky Way and contemplating the greatness of the Creator. I want to cherish these memories and hold on to them while they are fresh and bold in my mind. While the sun brings change and much needed revitalization, I am going to hold on just a little longer to the memory of the long Winter.

Having said all of that, I am immensely enjoying the sunlight and all it brings with it. Our station took down all of our window coverings this past weekend. One more fun sign to point to the nearing of the end of our time here. Though our windows have a heavy tint on them and we could mostly see only our own reflections for the first few days, there have been moments where we can see the glowing reds of the sun peering over the horizon.

We are all still alive. The sun has started the long sunrise back over the most southern place on this planet. Life is, I dare say it, good. I will say my goodbyes to the Milky Way and auroras soon enough.  Perhaps I need to find the right time or thoughts. They have left regardless. I guess I just want to wait a little bit longer.