I don’t often notice that we’re living in a bubble with a three mile diameter, but once in a while that urge to go starts rifling through my inner organs, and it is suddenly so blatantly obvious that This Is It until the end of February.
Which isn’t a bad thing. There are many aspects of this often monotonous life that have become somewhat comforting: the whirring of industrial driers, the prospect (i.e. certainty) of over medium eggs for dinner, the removing of work pants when the day is done. There are even parts of my job that have been elevated through the repetitiveness. For example, waxing floors now feels like an ancient calligraphic art; the mop is my brush inscribing the poetry of dreams into a shiny finish.
It is so easy to fall into a rut, and we had done so. Last week, we got knocked over the head with the realization that we were bored. Bored? In Antarctica? It felt like heresy. There’s only one way to get out of a rut, and that is to start moving. So we bought our tickets for after the ice. Our future involves two weeks decompressing in New Zealand, a three week trek to Everest base camp, and two and a half months in India. Then we started hiking almost every day, not only to train, but for fresh air, for a change of scenery. And then we did some big time spring cleaning. I border on the hoarder side of things, but we got ruthless. I relinquished my ownership of 10+ pairs of pants, and probably 25 shirts. It felt good. It felt overzealous for a moment, but then it felt good. We packed up another two suitcases full of stuff and mailed them home. 2012 arrived and provided an external push toward new, fresh, better.
Now we’ve got about six weeks left. We’ve pared down to essentials, and we’re moving our bodies. We’re ready to enjoy our time left here this season and we’re ready to go when the time comes.
The other day at lunch I was making my way through my salad, when my eye caught an odd contrast in the various shades of green on my fork. It was lucky that I noticed this, because this little contrast happened to be an adventurous little insect.
Normally, finding a bug on your salad isn’t such a joyous occasion. In this instance, it was almost miraculous. Consider that at some point, this bug made its way into a box of lettuce in some food warehouse in New Zealand. Maybe it was on the leaf when it was picked. Maybe it was an egg stuck to the bottom of a bunch. Either way, this little guy lived on his leaf as it made its way to the Christchurch International Airport, was packaged onto a pallet, loaded into a C-17, and flown to Antarctica. Once on the ice, our new friend survived being unloaded from the plane by forklifts, loaded onto a flatbed, and driven the hour long drive back to McMurdo. Here, he (or maybe she!) was dropped off at the galley loading dock, unpacked, washed, set out, and finally noticed mere moments before being chomped by yours truly.
I don’t know what kind of bug he or she was. I don’t know what species it was, from what family, or what genus. I don’t know where this bug came from, or what it does. I don’t know how many babies it’s supposed to have, or how long it normally lives. All I know is that this bug is just as out of place here as I am. Together my six-legged friend and I can relate on both being in a place neither of us was ever biologically equipped for.
After letting the bug crawl off of my fork and onto my finger, I placed him into a little green mug along with some lettuce. He really shouldn’t be here, but I thought he deserved to live the last bit of his short life in comfort after all he had been through. I placed the mug in a safe place, and said goodbye to my friend.
Antarctica is not completely devoid of life. McMurdo Sound is teeming with life, especially when compared to the vast interior of the continent. Humans are not the only living presence, but we are the only outsiders. There are no other living organisms here that shouldn’t be here. We have strict rules and procedures in place to prevent this. All of which made me respect that little bug even more. He had made it through against the odds, and became unique to his species in that he crossed an uncrossable ocean to live at least a fraction of his life on an unlivable continent. He and I must rely on infrastructure and climate control for survival here. Without it neither of us would last very long. Both so brittle compared to the reality of the Antarctic, his fragility is my fragility and in that we are brothers.