When I first arrived in Antarctica I felt like the world had just got smaller. This place that had lived in my imagination for so long was suddenly real and underfoot. I’d now been to the Arctic and the Antarctic, and many tropical and temperate places in between. The world was small. But over 12 intense days a small corner of Antarctica became my world and the endless, limitless, whiteness around us made the world big again.
Yesterday morning we were collected early from Scott Base by Ivan the Terra Bus. Inside the bus, a sea of 4am faces looked out at us from red National Science Foundation jackets – Americans. Our group of 16 New Zealanders wearing Antarctica New Zealand’s orange and black coats crowded in to fill the bus. Out at Pegasus airfield, on the Ross Ice Shelf about an hour’s slow drive from Scott Base, we didn’t want to sit in the “departure lounge” – a heated insulated crate with chairs – so stood outside in our ECW boots and coats to wait for the plane to come in. The skies were clear and we could see we were in the middle of a large white plain, with Ross Island to the north, White Island and Black Island to the south, and the transantarctic mountains to the west. Parked alongside us were four red-tailed LC-130 ski-equipped Hercules, which fly to the South Pole and some of the large field stations. One of the Hercs was about to leave. A man pushed through the waiting scientists, calling out, “Who else for the Pole?”. I wish. A Twin Otter landed, discharging a group of Italian scientists from Mario Zucchelli Station at Terra Nova Bay.
With its military planes, tractors and forklifts, monster trucks, containers and men running around in black carhartts, sunglasses and balaclavas, the whole place looked like the remote top secret headquarters of a nefarious plot to take over the world.
And then our C-17 arrived. The mostly red-coated American scientists disembarked. Forklifts cleared the cargo and loaded on new cargo – rubbish from the bases, an aeroplane propeller, scientific samples and the bags we’d checked in five days earlier. We boarded, and US Air Force flight ICE 38 bound for Christchurch took off soon after 7.30am.
Now I’m home I feel like I’ve returned from another planet. I’m back in a world that looks dirty, messy, unkempt. I can’t believe how much STUFF there is in my house. I liked the simplicity of a world that was coloured white and blue, Scott Base green, the volcanic reddish black of Ross Island, and the occasional red or green of a flag. I want to paint my house white and put red flags on the walls.
I know, I know, I was only there 12 days. Many people stay for weeks, months and some stay for more than a year. They get the real Antarctic hangover. I’m sure I’ve got the mild version.
But that place, that place. I love it. I’m already thinking of ways to get back there. I could continue with my earth sciences study and turn my honours degree into a Masters! If that didn’t cut it I could do another PhD! I could offer my services as embedded journalist cum field assistant on a major science project!
For now, though, I’m going to print out some of my Antarctic photographs and put them on the wall around my desk, alongside a map of Antarctica that’s already there. Alice just sent me a link to the Scott Base webcam, so I can check that every … well, hopefully not too often. I have articles to write for the Listener. I have an anthology of Antarctic science to complete and an essay to write as its introduction. It’s Christmas soon, and summer holidays, and I have a whole other life – a good life – that I need to pay attention to. But I don’t want to lose this. I don’t want to get over Antarctica.
Scott Base, Scott Base, this is Rebecca. I’m off the ice. I’ve crossed the transition. I’m home.
Big thanks to Antarctica New Zealand, my fellow writers Alice Miller and James Borrowdale, and to all the Scott Base staff and visiting scientists for making my trip so wonderful and memorable.