Antarctic Diary - November 17th, 2003
It's my diary, right? So let me tell it to you the way I saw it happen.
This is a metaphor. A fable. Some of it is real. Some of it isn't.
The outcome is the same, though, no matter how you slice it.
I have been to Antarctica three times. Add up all the time, you get months.
There is a webcam in Antarctica. McMurdo station. Though I've put up others, I did not put up this one. It predates my camera up putting. I don't know who did. It says "NASA" on the website, but the NASA people say they know nothing about it. Only the head of Antarctic IT knows about it. He wants to shut it off. It no longer serves its purpose, apparently.
I have had the opportunity to ask him what its purpose is, and what did it used to be.
He said he didn't know, but as IT head, he had the power to shut it off.
It didn't matter to me whether or not he shut it off. I just wanted to know where it was. The odd thing about the camera is that I have been to all the places it sees, yet I cannot put myself in its place to see the same way it does.
So I can't find it. I must have looked right at it a hundred times. I didn't see it.
This is a link to it:
When that link comes up you will see the MCC building. This is where we leave Antarctica. It doesn't look like you could go anywhere from that building.
But you do. From there is everywhere.
There are days you could have looked through this camera and seen me looking for you. That's part of the magic that's not its purpose, that will cause it to be shut off.
I suspect they can't find it, either. Or it would be off by now.
On my last night in Antarctica, I went to the office to find my own personal camera and wound up falling asleep on the ground. I had dinner with my team. We talked about next year. They helped me bag drag my stuff to MCC. They wanted to go have a few drinks. It was Monday night and all the bars were closed, though.
They had their own. But I had an offer from a friend who had a bottle of wine from the Italian base at Terra Nova where she had been during the Antarctic winter and did I want some, yes I did. My teammates didn't want to join me. They suspected something personal would happen, Antarctica and all.
After the third time, I stopped inviting them. We stood outside MCC and I looked for the webcam. I must have looked straight at it. But I couldn't find it.
It was a nice warm night, Monday. Warm for Antarctica. My friend and I walked to Hut Point and sat on the ground near Vince's cross. It was a little windy, but we weren't cold in our fluffy clothes.
I popped the cork on the wine with a bent fork she stole from the galley. It was sparkling wine, like champagne, only it wasn't French so they couldn't call it that.
She poured the Italian champagne into juice glasses I stole from the galley.
So we had to toast something, but I couldn't figure what wouldn't be completely obvious.
"Here's to Vince," she said, raising her glass to the dead seaman's cross.
"To Vince," said I.
"Here's to all the orphans, that they may find their parents," she said, raising her glass to the sun, then downing half her glass.
"To orphans, wherever they are," I said, doing the same. She poured us more.
"Here's to fathers who love their children and never leave."
"To fathers," I said, being one.
"Here's to husbands who love their wives as much as their wives love them."
"To me," I said, toasting my beloved six thousand miles to the north. "I'm coming home."
"Here's to always having a home, no matter how far you go."
"To home," I said, shouting out to the planes parked on the frozen ocean.
All the while she poured the wine and thought up more things to toast.
We toasted penguins and seals and herbies and glaciers and people who saved your life when you fell into holes in the blue blue ice.
Finally, when the bottle was almost empty, she raised her glass into the late evening gray gold sunlight and said, "Here's to never coming back."
I felt her kiss me before I knew what was happening. I cringed.
"Uh oh," I said, and thought really loud(ly).
She stood up fast, downed the last of her champagne, and zipped her juice tumbler into her pocket.
I said, something mumbly and stupid that was probably the same as, "What?" but wasn't an actual word.
"I am never coming back. This is my last season. I can't take it anymore," she said.
I tried not to squint. I tried not to furrow my brow and look concerned. I really wanted it to not be about what it was about.
"Why? You love the ice."
"Just--just shut up," she said.
"Could we go back to toasting penguins?" I think I said next.
"I want you to know I trust you, but I don't trust me. Goodbye. Have good dreams."
Then she turned and started back to town, leaving me sitting on the dirt next to Vince's cross with half a glass of Italian champagne in one hand, and an empty green bottle next to my knee.
Champagne gives me a headache. I knew it was coming.
"Hey, wait a minute," I shouted toward her. "Did I say something? Did I DO something wrong?"
"Don't follow me. Please." She hardly turned around to say it. She just waved a gloved hand at me like she was shooing away a fly or a hungry puppy.
Because sounds travel, I heard her sniffing. Once I thought I heard her sob.
When she was far away I picked up the bottle and zipped the juice glass into my parka like she did.
I had to pass the invisible webcam on the way back. Somewhere on top of one of the buildings it could see me. I held up the empty champagne bottle and pointed to it. If you had gone to that link, then, you would have seen me doing it.
My teammates were still drinking when I met up with them in the lounge. They handed me a bottle of irish whiskey, and I pulled out my tumbler and filled it.
We toasted teamwork and science and ice people. They asked me how it went with my friend, and I told them it went weird and she was crying and running away. If she wasn't an ice person, I would have tried to follow her to get her to stop. But you can't do that to ice people.
"It really doesn't go over well," one of them said, "You acting stupid."
I wasn't trying to be, on purpose. Or maybe it was just a defense mechanism. Or maybe it was T3. Something. Some sort of trouble I learned how to keep out of when everything intense and pointy and burns like cold. It was the only way I could think to stay out. They should tell us about this before we come to the ice, like the student said.
It wouldn't matter, though.
"Are you going to tell me there is no feasible way just to be friends? Why does it have to be anyone's fault?"
"Yeah. Why? Exactly," someone answered.
Then I went back to the office to get my camera. On the way I toasted the invisible camera the IT people couldn't find to turn off. I finished a tumbler of irish whiskey because I'd just lost a friend forever and there was no way around it.
Welcome to the ice. Enjoy your stay. Try not to die.
If you had been looking then, you would have seen me trying not to die.