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From South Pole:

January 25, 2011

Tuesday, Jan. 25 2011 UTC

Closure

Once again on the train bound for Picton, to catch the Interislander ferry to Wellington. I think this will be my last post for this trip, so I may try to sum up a few things. First and foremost I want to thank those of you who read along with me; knowing that there were at least a couple of regular readers made the writing more enjoyable, and helped keep me to the daily discipline of posting something, which in turn helped establish a sort of rhythm for the trip.

I have called this my last trip to the South Pole and have tried to treat it that way. Helping to hunt for neutrinos in Antarctica has perhaps been my life’s biggest adventure, and it certainly is bittersweet to say goodbye to it these past few days, thinking of each step of my northbound journey as the last repetition of a pattern established over years. Of course it is a fact that as long as life continues one doesn’t know where one will wind up — just as one never knows if the time one spends with a friend will be the last time or not (and, in fact, every time is unique, never to be repeated, whether you notice or not), I can’t say for certain whether or not I will ever go back to the Pole. There will be other projects on the Ice and I could see myself involved with those. Also, IceCube will hopefully run another 15-20 years and they will be sending people every year, and while I’m not sure I’ll be needed on the Ice I certainly wouldn’t rule out helping if asked. But with the completion of IceCube’s construction and the diminished likelihood of further trips, it seems appropriate to let the place go in my mind. I feel that this is a time in my life to start to let go of certain things, to let things fall away and see what takes their place.

I remembered a sentence from Rudolf Steiner, ... that when something ends, we must think that something begins. His advice is salutary, but the execution difficult, for we only know what we have lost, not what we will gain. We have a very precise image — an image at times shameless — of what we have lost, but we are ignorant of what may follow or replace it. — Jorge Luis Borges, Seven Nights

I wrote previously of success or Fruition, and tried to give a sense of the excitement of putting a capstone on a body of work, related not just to this two-week trip but to a decade or even half a lifetime of work. Now I want to think for a moment about more mundane challenges of the trip.

Towards the end of last year I got onto a sort of minimalism kick, reading books and blogs on living simply and thinking about what sorts of things I could give away or live without. The idea of paring down, eliminating distractions and noise, multitasking less, and focusing more on what matters, appeals lately. Of course traveling always helps to encourage a certain minimalism. Going to the actual Ends of the Earth, living out of two bags in a room no wider than my wingspan and not a lot longer, living with four minutes of shower time a week, not having to (or being able to) cook for myself, having no Internet for most of the day … this level of enforced minimalism is something I have enjoyed in the past, but it seemed this time to throw into relief the three choices available at any given time. These were: to distract myself with work (for there was always more work to do, always someone to help or a question to answer or a test to run, even before considering the ever-present backlog of pending software fixes and upgrades); to distract myself with play (movies, books, socializing, blogging, photography, games, ...) or, often less appealing, to just stop and be where I was: at the Pole; short of sleep; too hot or too cold; irritated by all the noise; worried about this or that; chapped or bleeding in various places because of the dryness; bad hair; missing fresh fruit and veggies; and generally being out of sorts at the Bottom of the World.

“This year I would like to set one goal, which is to be as fully awake and alert to the entire experience as I can.” Though there vivid and joyful moments, many of which involved stopping and just looking out at the lovely white waste, or moments of fellowship with colleagues, a shared laugh or the ordinary pleasure of lining up for food in the Galley, being awake often meant taking stock of just how uncomfortable I was and how I was searching for the next distraction. Having “awake” as a goal meant bumping against that over and over again, and confronting my resistance to whatever was going on. Perhaps by occasionally noticing, I wore a small nub off of that great ball of resistance.

My Antarctica has been:

  • The first acid bite of wind on my face after getting out of the plane after the flight to the South Pole
  • The smell of SimpleGreen™ used to mop the floors and clean the waterless urinals
  • Workouts in various gyms in the old and new stations
  • The hisses and rumbles of a hundred invisible machines inside and outside — heaters, generators, snow tractors, skidoos, Hercs
  • The metallic crunch of half-ton doors closing, and steps on metal stairs
  • Stash tea: licorice spice
  • The sound of the flags flapping from the platform above Destination Alpha
  • Having noisy neighbors, and (probably) being one
  • Carrying a radio instead of a cell phone
  • Music: David Bowie, “Outside” (1998); Soundtrack to “Pi” (2000); Kris’s 7-CD mix (2009); the fellow playing guitar down by the gym (2011).

“Everybody has his own Antarctica.” —Thomas Pynchon, V

I say goodbye to mine.

Thanks again for reading. I plan to keep posting pictures for awhile since I haven’t gone through all 2500 of them and because I’m still taking a lot here in New Zealand.