As I shift into consciousness the sounds of our last morning in Antarctica filter through. Snow sliding softly off the tent wall. The squeaky crunch of footsteps. White noise of a windless, peaceful morning. I resist leaving the warmth of my sleeping bag cocoon, but it is time to pack. In a few hours we will fly away to re-enter the ‘normal’ world again, back to continents where more than lichen can live, where living is apparently less harsh.
“A briefing for entry into a harsher environment” the reading was titled.The five of us sat around digesting another dehydrated meal in a bag and the twenty-four hour sunlight super-heated our micro tent world. It was our last night out camping on the ice before arrival at Union Glacier, our start and end point for exploring Antarctica. Celine began reading. We laid about in the billow of soft sleeping bags to listen. The harsher environment of course is “real life”: it can be tough, and the lessons learned ‘here’ are useful for ‘there’.
To my surprise I am not feeling ready to return. I thought by now I would be excited for some simple luxuries: a soft bed, a heated blanket, a delicious frothy coffee or the sight of something green. There are people and places I look forward to again but my soul is already grieving for expedition life, for the dualities that it brings: complexity and simplicity, space and confinement, alone-ness and together-ness, vulnerability and strength, connection and disconnection. I miss waking up huddled closely with my tent-mates and the time skiing silently in big open white-scape. I miss the detailed organisation of kit and systems and the contrasting uncertainty of every hour of every day. I miss feeling small and vulnerable as well as strong and capable. I miss the clear, invented purpose of every day.
I think about the trace we have etched in the pristine landscape. We have left no rubbish and tried to minimise our impact. The wind will blow away our tracks but a yellow trail of urine marks our route. As we re-traced our path back from the Pole of Possibility, I regret that we did not share pee holes or carry it out with us. Peeing in the wilds is normally so innocuous, but stains on pure white look like ugly contamination.
In white landscape and twenty-four hour daylight, a timeless-spaciousness quality permeates where metrics lose their grip. In an environment calling for resilience, a togetherness-connectedness thing evolves where relationships become more vital.
It is harder than we anticipated to leave, but Antarctica has been a reminder that we are adaptable, resilient, purpose-seeking, capable humans. No matter how harsh our environment may be, we seem to find ways to connect, collaborate and create ways to not only survive, but to thrive.
In a tiny corner of Antarctica at Union Glacier, we wave goodbye to new friends. It seems inspiring and against all odds that a camp even exists here. In this wild, inhospitable and beautiful place, exploratory humans seek out a home every year. Despite only a handful of days spent there before our journey, we were welcomed back from our 300km with warm hearts, fancy dress, fun and friendship. It has been incredible to be nowhere and then somewhere, to experience vast expansive space and then immersion in a diverse quirky international family, a super special gathering of people seeking the edge of everything.
Just as a photograph can’t always capture the profundity of a place or a moment, it is sometimes difficult to find words that describe how something has sculpted us. An experience can impact us so deeply that we don’t immediately know how to translate it for others. And may never.
For now though, THANK YOU to all that have been part of this project, for helping us get to and back safely from the POLE OF POSSIBILITY.