Reflections One Year Later

From discovering that lead easily fractures after prolonged freezing rendering pencils mostly useless to the intricacies of South Pole Station communications technology, what is it that jumps to my consciousness one year later? Invariably during my 25 presentations on Antarctica over the past 6 months, I am asked why I would ever want to return. Wasn't once enough? Two 2-minute showers a week, lack of privacy, over-crowding, layer upon layer of clothing, shared bathrooms that aren't quite clean enough, no fresh milk and rarely fresh vegetables and fruits lead mostly adults to ask, "Why?" "No TV!" students chorus, "No way." Surprisingly, both adults and students tend to equally ask, "Was it fun?"

I often call Antarctica "The Great Equalizer". Dressed alike in our issued clothing, first name basis and take-care-of-yourself no-frills communal living reinforced the truth that we were a team and our safety and survival hinged upon our interconnectedness. We were without the titles and trappings that label and classify us in our myriad and diverse societies.

Sensory deprivation at the South Pole Station was understood but not realized until I disembarked in McMurdo, Antarctica, on my return to New Zealand and eventually home. I stood gawking at a skua (similar to a seagull) for what seemed like hours. It was the first sign of life other than human that I had seen in three and a half months. Upon arriving in Christchurch, New Zealand, the smells of vegetation immediately blasted us through the opening doors of the C141. Color. Airport interiors so bright my eyes seemed in shock. Neon bright grass to touch, to lie on. Cars and buses screech and speed. Yes, I had re-entered civilization. Or had I?

"But there is nothing to see!" people laugh as I share a photo of the South Pole Station scenery of brilliantly intense white ice as it meets the horizon of chilling bluish white sky. No clouds. Nothing. White meets tones of frigid white. I comment that I believed I could see the curvature of the earth and how stunningly beautiful it is at the South Pole. Perhaps it was the silence, the feelings of peace mixed with inspiration while standing alone viewing infinity that defined beauty to me.

Was it fun? I paused the first time this question was directed at me. There were some fun times, but fun does not describe my experience. Working seven days a week for three and a half months took its toll. The living conditions were difficult, but then I didn't expect them to be easy. I scrutinized the larger group and myself working through the stages of culture shock and the stresses of adjustment. So why did I return to Antarctica? For education. I love to learn and I love to grow. It was a marvelous opportunity that I couldn't refuse. If that is how fun is described, then yes, it was fun.

Sandra K. Kolb
February 2000