Antarctica Redux

December 9th, 2001

"Was I in love, or was it just the idea of being in love?"
- David Gilmore

CHCH, NZ On my way north.

I am here because my father died. I had been immortal all my life. When he died, my immortality evaporated. Suddenly I was 40 and the number of years ahead of me could very well be less than the number I'd been through.

Been through. Most of my life has been spent getting through this or that rather than being here right now. It took losing my Dad to get me to try things I should have been doing all along.

My trip to Antarctica was one gigantic zen excursion, an attempt to enjoy existence rather than the endurance of existence for an ideal. Whether or not I achieved that will become evident to me over time. The effects will be internal, largely. Like some of the things I witnessed while at TMI, most of it I won't be able to prove to anyone, nor will there be the need. Part of the test is understanding it's enough that I know what happened. My knowing is more important than my ability to explain it.

Now we're done and heading home. Some people say to me, "Well, Joe, it's over," but most people don't understand. There wasn't a day Antarctica started for me, and there won't ever be an end. All that exists now is an intensification. When I look at the map on the wall in my office I'll have memories to go along with the names. I have faces to place with the temperatures. My experiences cannot be removed.

They've happened. Every time I remember, they happen again. Every time I talk to an ice person, it will come back.

I've talked to a lot of people in Antarctica about how they felt getting off the plane and stepping onto the sea ice for the first time. The vastness of it all. Walking in Erebus' shadow, each of us bearing fragments of the reincarnate souls of Shackelton and Scott, much less willing to sacrifice our lives for the ideal as much as wanting to be a part of all that pulling we've experienced. The pull south.

I think I've figured some of it out, though. Words like "awe" came to mind. "Awestruck". Humbled. Excited. Thrilled. Dreams come true.

None of those fit as far as I'm concerned. Nope, for me it was plain and simple love at first sight. It was like sitting in the park on a sunny day and seeing the love of your life walk by for the first time, knowing deep inside this was the right person, someone who may as well be the missing piece of your soul that rolled under God's living room sofa when he was putting you together.

What I felt was unrestrained love.I have a crush on Antarctica. How could it have been anything else? The dream I nurtured for years was as much a part of me as my wife and children. When I stepped off the Herc and onto the sea ice I stood face to face with Erebus' rounded blue slopes across an infinite white plain. Something spoke to me, and kept talking the entire time I was on the ice.

Like a child at a birthday party it jumped into my soul and said, "All this time I've been waiting. Where were you? Did you miss me?"

"Don't ever leave me again."