I will find a God

December 13th, 2002

Awaken you dreamers
Asleep at your desks
Parrots and lemurs populate your
Unconscious grotesque
Please let them out
Do it today
And don't let the loveless ones sell you a world wrapped in gray
--Wrapped in Grey, XTC

And then it was over. Just like that.

Since returning from the dry valleys I'd fallen into a routine at McMurdo. Up at 5:30AM with my roomate. Wash. Coffee (Starbucks) in the room. Chat until 7:15. Then he'd head off to work on road building, and I'd head over to the galley for breakfast.

Breakfast with friends, if they were there, or alone. Then up to the library at Crary Lab to node, write, and do whatever computer cataloging I could manage. Lunch at noon. Then off to comms or another place to run errands until dinner.

Dinner at 6PM. Then hang out with whomever was around till 11. Sleep. Repeat.

One day my schedule was interrupted by bag drag and my herc flight north.

It was really as simple as that.

All of a sudden I was watching Ob Hill fade in the distance, and then I was crammed into the plane. Just about the time my legs and butt fell asleep we were airborne and Antarctica was over for me for a year.

An interesting fact about the plane that took me back to New Zealand: it was a New Zealand air force plane. Standard military camo color. There were five penguins painted on the camo. One us of asked a crew member what it meant. He said it meant five missions completed to the ice.

That seemed incorrect to me. That plane had been flying back and forth between Christchurch and McMurdo almost daily. How come only five penguins?

I found out twenty minutes into the flight. I was sitting across from one of the small porthole windows on the plane. Mostly, the window was blocked by Kate, one of the anthropologists from University of Rochester. She was knitting. She had taken out her knitting supplies as soon as she was seated and had set to creating a hat from yarn in a display of total knitting focus I'd never ever seen on anyone, even my grandmother.

Our knees were jammed against each other's thighs in the most unprovokative way two human's limbs can touch. And then there were the other 18 people around us who helped form the mass of flesh-become-cargo we'd been transformed into from sentient human beings. (I imagined the sign outside the plane --"Scientists. Contents under pressure. Take care when opening as contents will expand to several times the packaged size.")

For some reason Kate looked down. I think she was trying to retrieve a ball of yarn from somewhere between my calf and the ankle of the Kiwi scientist to my right whose hipbone was becoming acquainted with my kidney.

We were experiencing a bit of turbulence. Except for Kate, most folks were holding on to the cargo netting to keep from crushing each other. Under normal conditions the crew would have told us we could take our seat belts off by then. I figured the turbulence had given them pause.

Alas, my naivete can be disgustingly astounding at times.

When Kate looked down, I could see out the tiny window. Then I was absolutely certain for the first time in my flying career that I was in a crashing plane and my life would terminate in seconds.

There were waves outside my window. Waves of liquid black ocean. And then icebergs, their tops at the level of my forehead.

I could not see the horizon. It was above the level of the window.

The whitecaps on the storm tossed ocean streamed by in pulses like a strobe. And then bright flashes of blue-white as we streaked past chunks of detatched ice shelf.

The bastards were buzzing penguins. In a C130. At 200 miles per hour, just a couple of hundred feet off the deck. (Later I heard the Kiwi Air Force was well known for this practice, and that they had driven whole flocks from ice floes into the mouths of waiting orcas, who were apparently aware of the Kiwi flight timetable.)

After a while there was no more ice, only ocean, and the pilot pulled into a steep climb. Within a minute the loadmaster told us we could remove our seatbelts.

I got out of the netting and sat on some dufflebags strapped in a corner and for eight hours I stayed there listening to my iPod (which worked for nearly all that time on a single battery charge, to my surprise).

After eight hours we landed in Christchurch. I met up with some ice people and we had drinks at the Dux de Luxe. Then we went off to the greek restaurant for dinner. Dessert at a cafe. Back to the Windsor hotel to look at ice pictures in the lounge.

Then it was done. I said my goodbyes and headed down the street to the Devon, the B&B where I stay in CHCH. Went to sleep. Woke up for breakfast the next morning. Headed to the airport. Checked in. Had a few hours to kill so I went to the CDC which is at the Antarctic Centre.

The Emperor and crown princess of Japan were there. They were surrounded by reporters and some security. I got close enough to take a couple of pictures.

A lot of my life has become like this since Antarctica. So many amazing things. So many amazing people. It was as if I'd been living with my eyes closed all these years, and all I had to do was to open them and the same world I'd been in woke up and released all the parrots and lemurs and cartoon dragons.

Got home to California a little while ago.

Now I'm sitting here in the darkness I haven't seen in a month. It's raining outside. Windy. There are cars going by.

Part of me feels like it's over. Ok. Let's get on with life now.

Part of me says, "It's never over." Part of me will never leave Antarctica. I don't have to get back to any sort of life because this IS my life.

As was true last year, these feet that rest upon my office carpet have traversed the Taylor Valley. These hands chopped holes in Lake Bonney.

I may look the same, but the blood that flows in my veins is borne on liquid blue ice I hacked from glaciers and frozen lakes.

Nothing, and no one can ever undo that.

That's what adventure means to me. That's what life means to me. I have been blessed to be able to do these things, and I will find a God to thank for everything I have been able to accomplish in this creation.

I am mortal, but I will not die.

..don't let the loveless ones sell you
A world wrapped in grey