Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Voyage North

These photos are from the 8 day voyage from Palmer Station to Chile. As far as redeployments go, this one was spectacular - an 8 day paid cruise to and from Antarctica. I can get so caught up in the negatives while on station that I am sometimes blinded by the big picture of the really cool stuff I get to do with this lifestyle. I hear a lot of kvetching (and do a fair amount myself) from people about various things about working on the Ice, but ultimately, for me, this was, and continues to be a dream come true. Distance and time soften the prickly aspects of the season, so that what remains are memories of what is good working on station. And the power of images to conjur memory and feeling are astounding. I know things change and perhaps someday it will be time for me to trade this lifestyle for something different - but Antarctica is still so compellingly wonderful for me: I am truly excited to be going back to McMurdo to a job I've held in the past. I'm looking so forward to being in New Zealand again, the CDC & C-17 ritual, and seeing dozens of friends.  I am also looking forward to the structure and routines. I see that I need to learn how to treasure this sort of non-travelling time off. When I am on Ice in the middle of some horrible tasking, this long stretch of free time is all I think about, so I just need to learn how to relax and enjoy it!

I left station 3 weeks ago and have tried to settle into a transitional routine here in Austin but am finding that filling my days with activities and self structuring are ridiculously stressful. With hundreds of options available to choose from, I end up feeling overwhelmed after culling down to a couple of time fillers, followed by frustration regarding logistics (traffic), then chucking it all to spend the time simply walking around the local parks with my dog. One of the problems is that I feel like I have to pack my day with excitement as I only have two weeks before going back to the Ice, that I have to Blaze New Trails every moment.

I compulsively read every Anita Brooker novel years back, and even though I find her writing exquisite, her inert characters served as a warning to me as the kind of person I did not want to be: a healthy, moneyed woman with loads of free time on her hands spending endless stretches of days wandering around her large and lonely flat, incapable of goals or action. I started reading Brookner when I felt trapped in my life, and stopped reading her when my life became exciting (travel, adventure, seasonal work!) I have always been fascinated by homebody-ism, but incapable of it myself. I get a lot of creative stuff done when I have a regular home, but I always feel oppressed by property ownership and yearn to be free. I have the freedom now, and big dreams require big sacrifices. I could go on...but I'll stop now and go out and enjoy the rare rainy day here in Austin.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

My Precious Half Winter

This season was so different than my previous ones, and so unexpectedly challenging in such surprising and difficult ways, that I was curious when I started instantly missing Palmer as the boat pulled away (aside from the obvious teary goodbye with Will.) The place was beautiful, the food was extraordinary and all my coworkers were good people doing a good job. But I felt so oppressed by the smallness of the population that I thought I would pop with relief when I entered into wider expanses of both terrain and number of bodies. So I left with some trepidation: I was in a very coddled & protected world. I was treated well uniformly by everyone. My job was busy & ultimately, satisfying. Getting on the boat became the beginning of Unstructured Free Time - something I'm trying to develop a better working relationship with. Eight days tossing & turning on the boat, watching movies, eating & sleeping (while still on the payroll) flew by. One heavenly night at the old hotel in the square of Punta Arenas felt like my reward for the season. Twenty four hours of sleepless airplane rides later I wonder how the season seemed to be over in the blink of an eye, when some of the days seemed to drag on forever. I read so many memoirs, saw so many movies, ate so many exquisite desserts - that was part of the deal. I now completely understand how people get stuck in this's so easy to keep doing. So easy, yet hard too. I met some amazing people at Palmer and on the Gould. Even though there were times when I thought my Antarctic experience was in "the red" this time, I know that I am beyond grateful that I had the opportunity to go to Palmer. I will never forget these past four months. Oh, and there's a story about the second photo with me & Jon about to swing cans. After we were done with this final part of pier ops I went inside where some people had been watching us. One of my coworkers who has an indoor job said "Marsha that looks really horrible..what you were doing out there..." and I just smiled real big & said THIS is why I work in do stuff like this! To stand outside in storms doing stuff I never imagined I'd be doing.

Palmer Station, I'm not sure I like you, but I love you.