The Veldt

December 6th, 2001

"God, if you made me so small, why bother making me at all?"
- Thoughts upon seeing the Taylor valley from surrounding mountain heights

Your fingernails are painted gloss blue. They did it last night when you wore a wig and danced to Moby. Steak and lobster tails. You were eating surf and turf in a propane-heated hut over ten thousand miles from the stockyards or the Maine shores. Thomas grilles the steaks on the Weber and after the 10 mile hike from Lake Bonney to Lake Hoare everything tastes fantastic. Everything is fantastic. Every second of living is viscous, palpable, tonic for the soul. Gin and tonics. Glenfiddich over twenty-thousand year old glacier ice. Nicole puts cheddar cheese and marshmallows on Ritz crackers and melts them in the oven. This unlikely combination goes well with a beer in a jelly jar. Everyone laughs. Run out to the U-barrel when you need to relieve the excess liquids. Bounce a beach ball off a glacier face. Put on a purple wig and throw a frisbee across paleolithic sands.

Who are these people? Who am I? You ask yourself so many questions you begin to feel you're going to have to go back to first grade and start everything from scratch. Relearn everything. What is this life on the ice? ECWs and processes to save your life. Each other to save your life. If things go sour these are the people for whom you will get frostbite. These are the people who will threaten themselves to save you.

Toast. Raise your peanut butter jar of Jagermeister and meltwater and touch glass to glass. Here's to us.

Just outside a rectangular window the Canada glacier calves and it sounds like a box of glass poured into a metal trash can.

Yesterday you walked and stumbled across mummified carcasses of crabeater and weddell seals. How the hell did they get this far inland with no arms or legs? You can see the tracks they made mud. Seal tracks. Now you know what penguin tracks look like. You'll never forget, nor will you ever see them anywhere near home.

You're about 100 miles from any penguin village and you step on their tracks as if they're commonplace. A stiff breeze from off shore shifts and now you're hit with the catabatics from off the ice shelf. The temperature drops 20 degrees in a couple of minutes and now your sweat soaked underclothes become refrigeration. But after a few seconds the moisture is carried away and you're warm again.

Let's walk. Come on the walk past Blood Falls. Walk with friends in the Antarctic Veldt. Life is different here. Here is where life searches to find its place and uncovers only frigid niches. Most places in the universe are uninhabitable by living creatures, and Antarctica is among them. It's nearly as uninhabitable as Venus, Mars, or the Orion Nebula. Creatures made of flesh and bone have only one fate--to leave or become part of the fossilzed record someone will find thousands of years from now. Here only the rocks are alive. The ice breathes and moves. Sit next to a wall of moving ice and boulders and listen to what she has to tell you. Your feet crunch on the sand and once in a while you step on a large stone and your foot twists awkwardly and you stumble. The rock you just saw fall from the glacer side into the melt water was embedded in ice when the pyramids were built.

A block of blue ice clatters down a white cliff face to shatter on the scree below.

Bill says his ex-wife gave him some words about Antarctica. She told him Antarctica was where God went to dream. You think it's one of the truest things you'd ever heard. You're where God dreams, and now he's dreaming of you.

The sun bites your nose and cheeks and reminds you where you haven't slathered sunscreen. You trudge over rock and loose sand. In places the sand is yellow green, an ancient soil as fine as baby powder and as old as the dinosaurs that feels like stepping onto a thick wedding cake. The rocks are white, tan, black, and red. Jet-black pumice bombs lay amid stark white marble Caesar might have used. Rose quartz. Green olivine.

Listen. Wind patters past your ears and when it's calm, you hear only your own heartbeat and the air rushing through your throat. Know that this landscape could absorb everything you are, your body and soul, your loves and your history, and they'd search forever for the mark you'd leave and find nothing but the ice and sand that were here before you.

What do you love? If everything you ever cared for evaporated at this instant, there'd be no way to know. There'd be no reason.

To what purpose the animation of the flesh and bone you carry across this earth? Whoever created you speaks through ice and mountains. Here people measure the flows--how fast the ice moves, how much water runs into the lakes, how fast blows the wind that scours the rock. These are numbers all of us can understand while we start our cars and eat our prefab burgers.

But what of the deep murmur, a voice more felt than heard? Are you listening? So far from the traffic and television man-made interference has been subtracted and so too the problem you were too busy, too distracted, it was too noisy. You can't be too tired to hear this. You can't be too cold, too sweaty. Now there are no excuses. The wind and cold ablates the pretence.

You have to be who you are.

When you speak you hear someone else speak. When you walk, you see someone else's feet. When you breathe, it's someone's lungs, not yours--someone you haven't seen in years. Damn, how you've missed him. Remember the smaller face, smaller hands, reaching up for the doorknob, everyone taller.

It's a kid.