LITA ALBUQUERQUE. DECEMBER 7, 2006
I am writing from the hulled out C17 globe master military jet. The engines are revving up and we are about to take off from Christchurch, New Zealand on our way to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. This morning has been one of the most exciting so far, all the National Science Foundation grantees gathering at 3:30 a.m. at our bed and breakfast in Christchurch to go to the International Antarctic Center to put on our cold weather gear, pack our carry on bag with one outfit for the city in case we "boomerang" and have to come back to Christchurch due to weather, and board the military plane that is taking us to Antarctica. The International Antarctic Center is full of photographs of the scientific research being done there. Simon, Sophie, Jean, Lionel and I are meeting all kinds of scientist working on some of the most cutting edge research being done on the planet. We are meeting a number of physicists, geologists, molecular biologists who will spend the whole year there, they are called “winter over” scientists. Once through the security, we are outside the center and there, on the runway, sits the C 17, the grey air force military jet that will take us there. We are taking off !
I don't know how long it has been, I have fallen asleep, Jean is lying down on the floor, Simon is on his computer, Sophie is shooting the video and Lionel is awake in his chair a little distance from us. Being on this military jet is, like Sophie said, "enough right here". Honestly. We came in late so we missed the four rows of real seats, or any of the side seats with empty space in front of them, instead we are in the middle of the plane with tons of cargo no more than two feet right in front of us, we are staring at tons and tons of beer kegs, which makes Simon deliriously happy. A bunch of people are sleeping on the floor, others like us, are either reading or sleeping...
The moment is getting nearer and I am beginning to sense an extraordinary and profound experience about to happen. The sense I get from the others who have been there is the feeling one gets being around expert explorers, feeling their confidence and their sense of well being and the feeling that they are deeply within themselves, that they have accomplished, and are living a life that is full of realized dreams and accomplishments, fit of mind, body and spirit, having lived extreme conditions.
A little while ago, before I fell asleep, a big, burly, guy, with long , grey hair whom I had seen earlier at the center, walked by me, ruminating, on his jacket was embroidered.... Swedish Antarctic Polar Research...
I realize that I have very little idea of what awaits me, and yet, it is beginning to dawn on me.... the true adventure and uniqueness of this.... and the privilege! That we are here on a grant from the National Science Foundation, and that everyone is also, no wonder the feeling is that this is not just an ordinary group of people going on vacation, these are all scientific grantees on a mission, doing important research, going to the most pristine environment in the world. To be able to be part of this rarified world is intoxicating. Needless to say everyone feels it, and that is what is in the air on this hulled out military jet with the hundred of beer cans wrapped up in front of us.
I have started reading "The Ice" by Stephen J. Pyne very poetically written "it is a lustrous, magical and elegiac piece of writing. This is a book which has about it the structure of the Ice itself: it is a massive edifice, built up out of repeating units and variations in pressure...one of the greatest written on the cultural history of the earth ever"
I am pinching myself, there are only four tiny "hublot" (French word) tiny circular windows no more than 10" in diameter, I went to one out in the back of the plane, stepping over sleeping bodies, and looked out.... at first I was blinded by the intensity of the light, then it felt that I was looking at the clouds below me, then I started perceiving some shifts and through he clouds started to see an awesome sight, ice, ice expanding from horizon to underneath the plane, only perceivable by the breaks within it, huge sheets of ice, some small, like a cracked dry desert bed, but floating in a deep still sea. Looking out the window, my nose pressed to the glass, standing on the tips of my rubber booted toes, I started dreaming, my body started to float, knowing it was seeing something it had never seen before, a wide expanse of white, just white, only my mind knew it was ice punctuated by a midnight blue between the cracks. My peripheral vision captured a totality of an experience, engulfed me in what I was looking at, bathing my body with sensations that my eye was taking in as physical matter, as light, translating it into sensations, into an enveloping sense of well being. I am being caressed by what I am seeing.
It is getting colder in the airplane, people are starting to mill around, stretching their legs, and we are wondering how much longer we have to fly. Those who have already been there were very happy to see that we were not going in the Hercules which would have taken us over eight hours, they were also surprised that this was to take us four and a half hours, normally it is six, so it is a short flight. The view out of the window has prepared me a little for what Simon keeps saying to me "I can't wait to see your face when you step off that airplane" I think I have just gotten a taste of it. My heart leapt in complete surprise for a moment there when my eyes took me to the edges of the window and to what I could see below It is definitely a sense of something one has never seen before rather not experienced before, and that is what I am trying to get at, that the eye experiences, that we experience through the eye way beyond the sense of vision, in a place like this it is even more apparent.
I am dreaming again, floating again, I decided to look out the window again and this time we are over the continent! Soft, soft powdered snow covering mountain range after mountain range, row upon row of mountain peaks pushing through the snow, looking like waves cresting in an ocean of white. More extraordinary views out of the window, but we are landing! we have to get off.