Where was I?

I’ve made it. I’m free of the ice and loving every second of it. Since getting in on Monday night, my senses have been alive and electric. Simply walking between the main airport terminal and the CDC where we had to drop off our cold-weather clothes, I smelled more different and unique smells than I have ever at one time. For a moment, I think I was able to notice four seperate aromas at once. Even two days later, all food was still a riot of taste and the air was thick with sensation thanks to the humidity that blessedly exists here in abundance.

In short, I am thrilled to be here, free and wrapped in sensations touching all five of my senses.

After staying in CHC for a week, aside from the above, I’ve noticed a few things about this whole experience now that what it is adding to my life has changed, finally.

First of all is the weather. From my perspective here in CHC where it is sunny and 75 today, the weather was fucking terrible at Pole. Being in a humid environment again, I can’t believe I let my body be subjected to the torment of extreme cold, hard wind and dry, dry air for as long as I did. I mean, what was I thinking when I told myself that -10 and sunny was a good day? It wasn’t. It was cold. Very cold. And it was always dry. You don’t know the wonders of humidty until you’ve been forced to live without it.

Then there was the work. I worked 10 hours a day, 6 days a week and I worked hard. I carried 90 pound boxes of beef on a regular basis. I delivered 7000 pounds of food a week and then some to the station. I made sure that 250 people had the food they needed for four months. But of course, the real work came in my head.

With almost all external input removed from view, life at the South Pole became very internal for me. Sure there was outside input but so much of what really took place and will provide a lasting affect for me took place inside of me. I think a large part of that was self-inflicted because it was a requirement for survival at the South Pole. For the most part, we were all living as very seperate human beings, trying our hardest not to become too entangled with other people or the drama in their lives. Sure, there were those who went south looking for a party or a lot of hook ups, but the vast majority of folks, I think, were there to get away from that kind of thing. Many were running from something, or, like me, running into ourselves and that left us unwilling to really connect with most of the people there. It was such a common experience that it was remarked upon with regularity how rare it was to have a substantive conversation with anyone at Pole.

Why? Because when a few people (relatively speaking) are thrown together and forced to live and work in close quarters for four months drama will inevitably ensue amongst those looking for entanglements and hook ups. Things like that, while entertaing to watch from afar, only really suck one’s energy and attention. With so little time to be there, and so much to do — work wise and personally — anything drawing my attention away from the matters at hand was just not worth the effort. Let a person in and there’s an unspoken commitment there to keep them in (barring, of course, unforseen fall outs and whatnot). And for four months, what’s the freaking point unless you find someone really worth it? I ended up at the South Pole alone, for a reason. I needed to be seperate, not together, to prove some serious shit to myself and this was the best way I could find to do it. Letting all those people I really did like so much in, would have simply found me leading a life similar to the one I lead at home. And I needed a change from that for a bit, obviously.

Now that I’m off the ice, being alone is still all I can handle. I had lunch with Will and Laura from the kitchen the other day, and that was fine. Yesterday I went to the beach with Chris and Nicole (two people who I am and was willing to let in to my life at Pole and beyond). But usually, after hanging out with someone for awhile, I have to go off on my own and bury my head in a book.

This is a different kind of detachment though. This need to completely pull away from all these Ice people, who seem for the most part to traipse from bar to bar together, is a simple need for space. Four months we spent together, living at the bottom of the world and the only outlet for privacy any of us had was a room that was 6 feet by 8 feet with curtains for walls between you and the next room. I guess I just don’t understand the need to stay tied to people for as long as possible when, in less than a week for most of us, we’ll be flung about the world away from each other anyway.

After a week now, the visceral impact of that experience is starting to fade a bit. I’m less often awed by the warm sun and good food, less often shocked at how good it feels here and how bad, physically, it felt there. I still sleep a lot and the most-lasting physical affect is still water. I can’t stay in the shower for any less than 15 minutes and I am truely ecstatic to be getting on a boat in two days to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef for a week where I can jump in the warm ocean anytime I want.

In short, I already don’t think of being at Pole as often as I did when I first got off the ice anymore. Though when the wind blows and my skin doesn’t begin to burn almost instantly, I do. Sometimes, when I eat a piece of fresh fruit or simply sit down and have someone bring me food, I am thankful to be away from that place. Of course, food does still taste amazing and every time I eat I am reminded of my time at the end of the world.

The biggest symptom of being at Pole that I still experience is not being able to stay anywhere for very long. At Pole, there was nowhere to go ever so you were always in one place for a long time no matter what. I’m done with that sensation for a bit to be sure. Here, I can — and I do — flit from my room to the bank to lunch to flip-flop shopping to my room (when all the people and cars and flowers and smells and sounds gets to be too much out there in the world and the only thing I can’t get too much of is the humidity in the air) to the airport to flip-flop shopping again to coffee to nowhere in particular and (most wonderfully) to bed early and often where, at last, I can sleep as long and as often as I want.

But there is this image stuck in my mind of Pole that I think will never leave me and it’s what I went there to get.

I’m standing on the flight deck and the wind is whipping. Behind me are all sorts of people waiting for the plane and saying goodbye to each other, but for a second, I’m facing the plane and I am alone. The runway runs off to my right and the “Pax Terminal” (a fancy name for a heated plywood box) is on my left. The wind feels like it is coming across the runway which rarely actually happens, but that’s how I remember it. All around me is white. A white hot glare glows low in the sky and is always where my eye wants to fall naturally. When I look down at the ground, all is white, a brilliant white, sharp and intense. It shoots sparks of sky blue and wheat yellow like the wheat in Van Gogh’s wheat fields into my eyes every time they move and it burns like the wind which also stings when it gusts.

I know, in that brilliant white sun is where I want to be because it is in the sky and the sky will take me back to a place that changes. I am only moments from getting on the plane which is extremely loud and combined with the strength of the wind (the noise it makes can’t be heard over the racket of the plane), it is very hard to hear all the goodbyes.

I hear one though.

“Don’t lose us!”
“Don’t LOSE us!”
“I won’t! I Promise!”

Lynette meant her and her husband Jason and at the time, I knew that. But in my mind’s eye, she meant that place, and its experiences of intense lonliness and solitude. She meant that extreme weather which I would never miss and never see again. She meant that white burn always hanging in the sky which provided and drew away my energy over four months of hell and joy, lonliness and indpenedance, freedom and slavery. She meant the various versions of me that I met in my head during that time and the possibilities that each one presents back to myself. She meant the freedom I found I liked, the opportunities that being alone offered and the strength to be myself I’ve always had, but never used. She meant Pole.


So, that’s Pole I guess. I have a week in front of me on a diving boat on the Great Barrier Reef and a ton of pictures to collate into a slide show (or three). I’ll certainly post tales of diving and those pictures here for your enjoyment so don’t tune out just yet.

4 thoughts on “Where was I?”

  1. Whew. You ARE good. I’m most impressed with your ability to lay it out there, examine it, re-examine it, and then absorb it.

  2. Congrats, you are free. Sorry we never got to meet face to face, but I am sure you know now more then ever that I had to get out.


    PS I am heading back down in Oct.

  3. Charlie,
    Send this one out … NY Times, somewhere important. This is wonderful.

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