Saturday, November 03, 2007

Local Color

Christchurch is a welcoming place to come to on the way in or out of Antarctica. The Antarctic program seems to permeate everything. A tour bus topped with penguin statues makes the rounds regularly through town. Hotels and restaurants are decorated with photographs from Antarctic voyages of the past and present. And you can't walk very far in town without running into someone coming from or going to the ice. Within my first hours in town, I had already encountered several winterovers on their way back from a long dark eight months at the South Pole. Although they seemed well, each had a certain delirious and overwhelmed sense about them -- thrown back into the real world and not quite sure how to adjust to it once again.

For my first night in town, I went back to the Dux, the pub where Antarctic program participants seem to collect daily during the travel seasons. In addition to catching up with a couple of people I hadn't seen since last season, I also met many more. I spent most of the evening trying to explain the expansion of the universe to a handful of heavy equipment operators destined for McMurdo station. One of the best things about this whole program is how it brings together an assortment of colorful, interesting personalities, and people who wouldn't necessarily intersect with each other in their normal lives. I have a lot of fun listening to all of the personal stories, and it's also great how curious everyone is to hear about the SPT and the science that we're doing.

Seeing the returning winterovers did make me more aware, though, of just how far away I was about to go. For my last day in Christchurch, I made sure to soak in as much as I could of the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of a city in the springtime. I ate lots of spicy food filled with fresh vegetables and cheese, enjoyed the bustle of the busiest streets, and absorbing the spectacular botanic garden. For more than three months, the colors of my natural landscape will be blue, white, and grey, with just a touch of gold from the sun. I spent an especially long time lingering in the botanic gardens just drinking in the colors and smells. I'm hoping that these photographs on my laptop will give me a quick, bright break from the everyday while I'm working at pole this season.


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