Ice Poetry

They can't put the pipes underground here. There's permafrost. Ice and rock harder than concrete. Sewage, water, and fuel lines, trace patterns on volcanic Ross Island like the London Underground, above ground. Big pipes. If you had to climb over them, you'd need ropes. So there are bridges everywhere. No matter where you want to go, if it's from one place to another, you have to climb a staircase to use the pedestrian bridges go over huge insulated pipes.

Most of the bridges are metal. There's one bridge of wood. That one is an ad hoc art gallery.
People have nailed trinkets to the railings. Beads. Amulets. A wooden sundial is mounted to the top of the bridge.

People have taken battery powered routers and carved words into the stairs. These words climbing from Crary Lab to building 155 --

Walking across
A poem
Two strangers
Speak each other's

And these descending the other side

Climbing a
Bridge of words
Two lovers parted
From one Another

This haiku on the railing next to the walkway crossing the pipes --

Strangers turn to friends
The bonds we make strong and fast
I sink into bliss

My friend Bill Fox wrote the words on the stairs. Jen Petrik wrote the haiku.

There's a mobile hanging from the bridge. It's made of old CDs. At about 7pm, when the sun turns to the right spot in the sky, the CDs collect the light and cast brilliant dancing reflections on the snowbank beside the pipes.

Lots of people cross the bridge without looking. Lots of people stop and read. From the wooden bridge you can watch McMurdoites climbing Ob Hill, or the clouds crashing into dormant Mt. Discovery, 25 miles away.

I'm pretty sure Antarctica is where we come to hurt. Microcosm of the vast indifference of space. Masochism of the adventurous sort. Hurts deep and conquering way marathon runners feel just before crossing the tape. Everything hurts here. Even the best times burn like the last five pushups. We talk ourselves into concepts of normality. We're not going to change anything, so we make it our baseline. Nothing hurts until it's worse. Nothing's better till it lets up a bit.

We're tiny sparks of heat on an ice planet. Votive candles from the feet of religious icons lit by grandmothers in remembrance. Offshoot from a welder's torch, bounce away and fade. We have to shield each other from the wind that will put us out.

From here it's hard to believe it's warm anywhere.

It's physical. Think lonely, become lonely, it hurts in the legs and back, like having to carry a heavy instrument uphill. Like having to run in full gear, clunky boots, head and neck wrapped in layers so the breath condenses on the back side of a scarf, balaclava misplaced slightly, forcing the eyebrows down, don't miss the flight. No matter how bad it gets it can always be worse. Imagine how these rocks feel, having been here since Erebus spit them out before there were continents.

It doesn't matter where in this universe we are.

None of these planets invite us to survive.

We have to shield each other.

McMurdo Station -- October 2005