The last of Olivier Delanoë’s series of blog entries on the end of darkness and living without life around.
Sometimes an alarm will sound at night, waking us up with fatigued eyes. It even occurs that the alarm sounds multiple times, a horrible alarm clock that makes waking up even worse than usual. At this altitude, the ultra-dry air repairs our bodies even less than usual when sleeping. A medical experiment I am taking part in for ESA shows that we are suffering from sleep apnea. I often wake up with a dry mouth so I keep a bottle of water close at all times.
I turn and turn in my bed. All sleep has left me. I turn on the light to read a book. The Sun has disappeared for months and waking up is hard. I must take care not to fall into the trap of floating sleeping patterns. On the other hand it is sometimes better to sleep late and feel rested. Some crewmember’s sleep is no longer in sync and some stay up later than others.
What is the hardest part of the winterover? It is hard to say. We all experience the lack of light and sleep differently. The longest night drags on and on for some, others hardly seem to notice it. Time passes by quickly and the weeks fly by.
I sometimes don’t get out all day but I quickly feel the need to get a breath of fresh -70°C air. If only for ten minutes, getting out to look at the horizon, to impregnate the images, is important for me. I think of nothing, take time for myself. These ten minutes of reflection rekindle my spirits and keep my morale up.
The amazing thing about this landscape its immense emptiness. No mountains, no cliffs, just a huge white emptiness. Even in a hot dessert, life is always around you, a lizard, an insect, something moving, looking for food. Here nothing like that exists.
Life is 1100 kms away on the border. Life, flora, fauna! For the moment I don’t miss green pastures too much, but I am looking forward to seeing the ocean again. Watching the waves hit the beach and retreat in an endless flux of movement and the sound of birds wailing above my head. It has been over eight months that I have heard any noise from insects, the buzzing of bees, whistling of birds, the meowing of a cat. What does the mooing of a cow represent? When you are used to it, not much, but when we get back it will have a new significance and I realise that the world is rich with all the insects and animals that speak their own languages. The diversity of nature is astounding. Here nothing lives and nature’s beauty lies in its harshness. Without life elsewhere on Earth we could not live here as we are dependent on the riches of our habitable Earth. We live on a small spaceship in a greenhouse that allows life to prosper. Destroy it and we will destroy the spaceship.
We float on a solid ocean. The only waves are build-ups of snow that form from the wind and turn into abstract sculptures sometimes. Like on the ocean the horizon stretches far and at certain times of the day we can see the roundness of Earth. The distinction between sky and ground is clear. The oceans support life, some say they are at the origins of life. Our glacial ocean has imprisoned inside it the history of our climate.
Another aspect of our life here is that there are no smells. Our noses are underused. No smells exist outside to keep our senses occupied. The air is so dry that our noses suffer from irritations. We will rediscover smells on our return that we have forgotten over the last year.
Our supply of fresh fruits and vegetables have run out and we must wait for the first aircraft to arrive for more. No garden exists here to pick a juicy tomato still humid from the dampness of dawn. I dream sometimes, but not for long.
Life back on Earth
For over six months I have not had much motivation to know about what is happening in the world. Knowing of all the distress and the bombardment of daily information distracts us from concentrating on ourselves, our own life. My colleagues briefed me on some things but I prefer to read, watch films and listen to music. I sent emails to my loved ones and talked about my stay here. There is not much to say, nothing much newsworthy happens at Concordia! Internet has changed the polar adventure. Years ago, the winterover crew would return and learn of deaths in the family. Now we know within hours of the passing away. Is it better or worse? I don’t know. Bad news can lead to hard times but good news can release people from thinking in circles. Has introducing computers made people less social on the base? It depends on their character. Socialites will continue to seek company for games of poker or ping-pong despite their computers. Solitary persons can use a computer to isolate themselves even more. The 15 personalities that are living on the base have found their own equilibrium, reading, watching films and talking. The most important thing in my opinion is to have a colleague to confide in when morale is low.
Today we saw the Sun return at 11:09. This morning I woke up at 08:00 and I looked at the horizon through the window of my room. A red line ran along the horizon. I went outside and took some photos. The sky was on fire and the horizon seemed to vibrate. The glacial expanse underneath seemed dark and somber. As the redness of the Sun expanded it turned a reddish-brown.
The Sun has returned. Winter is not over yet, the first aircraft will not land until November but we have only three months to wait. The third part of winter has arrived. From February to May the days get shorter. We enter the polar night from May to August. When the light returns we start to return to our metropolitan habits. A winterover in Antarctica with the Summer campaign is 12 months in the cold. It might seem long, but time passes quickly.