This is a shocking place. Every time I remove my padded jacket after going into a building on station I am zapped by static and not just a little click of electricity but sparks shoot from my fingers. Touching metal, wood, taps, doors or even people jolts any weariness from me immediately.
Once the jacket it off and I look outside my window I can see all this water in solid form but I will never see rainfall, rarely snow either. In fact in the Dry valleys near McMurdo station there has been no rain for over two million years! This is some desert!
My skin is dry and needs some serious moisturizing products as soon as possible before I mummify, my lips are always cracked and its time to celebrated another birthday; this one involving drinks with the Mawson crew and a superb blueberry strudel kindly whipped up by the chef. I actually think about my next birthday in 2010 when liquid water will be nearby, my lips will be repaired by then and it will be a great deal warmer than minus 29 C outside.
The senses are all used here in Antarctica to make this place real as they are anywhere. Touch is big due to the dry cold and static but human touch is sadly zero without partners around. Smell is useless as there are not that many pleasant aromas here for the olfactory organ to enjoy. Taste is always grand but our pantry begins to empty of certain favourite items and hearing is used to mostly indulge in music or to gauge the various levels of katabatic wind. The darkness and blizzards makes sight not so easy but when we have views they are massive and intense. In fact the last aurora australis show was so brilliant it dragged me from a warm bed outside into -23C to feast on the wild dancing lightshow above. We are busy with all our senses discerning and indulging but Antarctica remains aloof. It does not give a penguin’s pecker about us humans.
In 2005 I visited the Ross Sea and managed to visit a tiny island in Terra Nova Bay. Inexpressible Island was named by a group of six explorers that were stuck there for one year back in 1912.
The name says it all. Miraculously the Englishmen survived by living in a snow cave and eating the odd penguin and seal. My time down here is another story and far from desperate but I can peer out the window and gather all my Antarctic experiences together and quite easily rename the entire continent Inexpressible Land. Not because of any trauma or shocking diet I have undergone but simply due to this continents scale and stark display of a shimmering void that murders language. Nevertheless I shall babble on…
Everyone on station has bunkered down to their routines and keeps busy with work and various station social activities. This winter crew will avoid any Polar madness thankfully but the winter period seems to be an experiment or adventure into an extreme locale for everyone on the Ice. We hover in-between the long dark night and the titanium white icescape. And hover we do as we are all definitely temporary but also relatively long term inhabitants on this peculiar ice-land that is often not even found on maps of the world and if it is pictured very few people will be able to point to any particular location besides the south pole. For a big chunk of time we are living or stationed or isolated perhaps stuck, marooned or even imprisoned here. The word selection above depends on the mood; stress or loneliness one feels on any given week. Today I like the words - We are ‘purposely plonked’ here.
I start to miss insect life! Which seems silly, as I never thought I would miss those little annoying creatures. I also miss trees and all those other green fluffy and spiky living things. I don’t even want to think about how much I miss my partner. Lets not talk about it. It’s inexpressible.
If anyone happens to be in Paris in September I will be in a group exhibition titled @RT OUTSIDERS. Opening Sept 8th. This is a show dealing with artists working in or with very out of the way locations.