Thursday, October 16, 2008

New Zealand

As I stepped off the plane, the first smell that greeted me was fuel. I can't believe that I flew 2,500 miles and the first smell that I came in contact with is fuel. It is just like I didn't leave McMurdo, except that the air felt heavy. Wet. The air felt that way as the plane got closer and closer to landing (though I never smelled the Earth as some people say can happen).

After a short bus ride to the main airport terminal, we walked through sliding glass doors and towards the duty free shops on our way to clear customs. Unfortunately, the very first shop we encountered was a perfume shop. As those of you who know me well may remember, I don't like perfume. Even in the shopping mall stores, it assaults my sense of smell and I avoid it. Imagine coming into contact with those same smells after a year without almost any smells. I just held my breath, tucked, and ran.

As we approached the always long customs lines, I started to worry. I was in most of my ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear and the airport was warm. I was going to overheat and get grumpy standing in line. I was too tired to just take some of it off. A customs agent saved the day when he saw all of us coming and directed us towards a line that he was opening just for us. Kiwis (New Zealanders) are good folk. They might do this for all flights, but in my short time here they always seems to take the extra step.

After clearing customs, I took my cart and headed over to the CDC to return my ECW gear. Along the way, the walk was lined with these small white flowers which were absolutely overpowering. I was intoxicated by the smell. I was so happy to slowly amble over there. Once there, we just dumped our gear in a pile and then were allowed to get on to our awaiting shuttle.

Everyone except me, went to the Hotel So, the most expensive option Raytheon will pay for. I went for the Windsor, a quiet B&B near the Botanical Gardens. It was a pleasantly cool spring night. Everyone was already in bed. It was quiet again. I got my gear inside and just went to the park across the street to touch and walk in the grass. I was only there a short time, but the feeling is still tingling inside me this morning. It was the same way when I first saw the sun.

After a short night of sleep, I got up at 7am. (Yes, I did try to sleep in but couldn't.) I headed for a short walk at the gardens before check in. I move slowly or everyone else moves quickly. I'm not sure. Over the winter, life certainly moved at a slower pace, but I didn't realize it was that slow. I can barely remember to walk on the left side of the street or even to look for cars when crossing. At McMurdo, there really isn't a side of the street and everyone drives slow. Keep checking your news report for an American tourist getting sideswiped by a car in Christchurch. Cause: admiring the flowers in a daze.

It's 9am. I'm heading back to bed and then I'm heading out to the gardens again. I'm going to lay there for hours.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Getting out

As I get ready to leave in less than ten hours, two scenes keep coming back to me from the movie Shawshank Redemption.

RED (Morgan Freeman): Believe what you want. These walls are funny. First you hate 'em, then you get used to 'em. After long enough, you get so you depend on 'em. That's "institutionalized."

RED: [Brooks]'s been here fifty years. This place is all he knows. In here, he's an important man, an educated man. A librarian.

I've been at McMurdo Base for just over a year. I certainly have more liberties than any prison, but life has taken on a certain stable rhythm, especially over the winter. As I get ready to head to Christchurch, NZ in a few hours, I just keep thinking about how overwhelming the independence may be. About a month ago, a chef asked me what I wanted him to cook for dinner. I had trouble answering him because it had been so long since I had that choice presented to me. Everyday, I'll be presented with choices that I didn't have down here. I'm kind of awe struck thinking about the possibilities.

Also overwhelming, but in a better way, will be the attack on my other senses. I am going to sense more colors, smells, and sounds that I have had in a year. Our main colors are black and white. Our main smells are dinner, your own body odor, and fuel. The sounds are nothing compared to what a city will present. I'm looking forward to like burying my nose in the petals of an orange lily or digging my toes into the grass. I've heard that you can smell Earth before the plane even lands.

It is GO time

Someone got hurt today. We are going to medivac him out tomorrow. Therefore, the Friday flight is now a Thursday flight. I'm frantically packing and heading out to . . . . .well, to who knows where. Christchurch, NZ for a couple days and then up to hike the Abel Tasman track. I'll be in touch soon.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes

Mt. Discovery behind the Chapel of the Snows.

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand
Six Hundred Minutes
How Do You Measure
A Year In The Life?

October 12th was my one (leap) year anniversary of being down on the Ice. It passed just like any other day. I'm leaving on Friday. That too will pass with no celebration. While the community I have learned to love over the past six months has been dismantled, a new one has formed. Old friends are reuniting. New friendships are forming. This place marches on even as each of its winter stewards leaves. I believe that after my flight goes there will still be thirty people left from winter.

Sunset on October 8, 9pm

I've been fortunate enough to be given a little extra time to pack. My Thursday flight was delayed so I now leave on Friday. It doesn't feel like enough. I'm not sure it will ever be enough. This place and the relationships I have here have become home. I'm not ready to head away from them. On the other hand, it is also time to go.

Sunset on October 13th at 12am.

I'm busy behind measure getting ready to go. Some of that is packing. A lot of that is slack time with friends. There is no way I can spend enough time with each of the friends that has just come back down to the ice. I guess I'll just have to see them back in the United States. It will be weird to see them back there. It feels like they just went off to college and are just now coming back to the hometown so I need to catch up. They have done so much while I have remained here.

Mt. Erebus.

Those are the spare thoughts for the day. As I get busier, my time on the internet is dwindling. I'll try to get another update on soon.

Clair, who may grump at me for putting this picture up, and that is why it is up.