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From South Pole:

Drifts

Sunday, Nov. 13 2011 UTC

Nov. 13, 2011 16:35 NZDT B2 Science, Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

Feeling a bit run down this afternoon. Got up and decided it was my first “workout” day, working out consisting of twenty minutes of walking since this is still just my fourth day here. Had a nice walk and a bit of a stretch, and then a SHOWER, my first since McMurdo. Feeling pretty peppy, I had decided today would mostly be a day off, to rejuvenate and prepare for the week ahead. I was headed back to my room to practice, and ran into WO Carlos who informed me that a server had crashed in the IceCube Lab (ICL) and that the detector was therefore running short one string. So much for a day off, but this was another training opportunity, training being primarily what I came down for. Sven and Carlos and I suited up and Sven got a snowmobile with passenger sled ready (I was happy not to have to walk the half-mile distance there and back, having perhaps already pushed it a bit by walking in the gym).

I’ve been thinking more about what I wrote the other day, about being tuned into differences between this trip and previous ones. In fact, I have mostly been struck by the sameness. The rhythm of the plane rides here, the same faces year after year, the process of acclimatizing to altitude, the same nooks and crannies (unmarked bathrooms, locations of semi-private phones for calling home) — much has simply not changed at all (at least in the past several years, since the new station was built). It feels as though this place is on another plane altogether, not part of Earth or the world at all, a kind of parking ground for (temporarily?) lost souls. I would liken it to the Tibetan notion of bardo, but bardo is an in-between state between incarnations, and this place doesn’t feel in-between at all to me, but somehow out of the normal flow of things. Limbo, perhaps.

A shift in perspective came to me as I was riding the sled out to the ICL. The winds are still quite high, keeping the wind chills below -60F, and making snow drifts and sastrugi everywhere. As we crossed the skiway I looked out across the vast space and thought about the drifting snow, the constant shifting and drifting, and realized that the change I was curious about, in myself and in others, is more subtle, a building and shifting over time which is hard to notice even on the time scale of months or years. Yesterday in the galley a colleague of many years, Robert, looked at me and said, “You’re getting grey, man.” True enough. The wearing of time sometimes is noticed not in sudden shifts but in gradual drifting, accumulation, wear and tear and the greying of hair. Doesn’t sound cheerful, I guess, but it was actually a pleasant notion to contemplate as we zipped across the wide white waste.

After which, of course, we quickly fixed what needed fixing and headed back for brunch.