Friday, 7 October 2011

Reaching out

Now we've passed the equinox, our days are longer than yours again,
unless you are one of the 70 or so people on this planet closer to the
geographic south pole than we are. True darkness is gone already, and
with that we've lost the awesome sights of the night sky. In all sorts
of ways Concordia is beginning to rouse from her hibernation, and for us
crew individually, we're already feeling a big change. Now we are
looking to the near future when the first people of the summer campaign
arrive, and our departures soon after. Most of the crew have already
been given departure dates.

November 7^th -12^th. The specific date changes as ENEA finalises it's
plans, but at least we know now the first plane is going to land in the
second week of November. Most are saying that the end of the winterover
is in sight but to me it feels as if a new chapter began, so quietly
that no-one noticed, perhaps a couple of weeks ago when the first
departure dates came through. The days are so much warmer too –
generally around -50C which, with the suits we have, is comfortable.
It's so much easier to go out, you can see normally. Sunlight
illuminates our mealtimes. Life feels much less constrained. To me, the
winterover feels already over.

The astronomers have mostly given up their work as the light is
interfering with their instruments at night. So they are now up and
having all their meals with us, and there are no empty seats at the
table. The technical crew are able to work properly outside at last, and
David with the chargeuse particularly is busy moving containers around,
starting up other heavy machines that were mothballed through the cold
months, like the bulldozer, and digging out the larger snowdrifts.
Everyone's sleep is back to normal and some of the guys look ten years
younger. Everyone is visibly happier, and the crew really feels back
together again, even though it never actually felt at any time before
like it had been pulled apart. Strange.

The researchers I've been working for are already looking ahead to next
year's experiments and I've been helping a bit with planning them. I've
been in touch with the guy who'll be the ESA doctor next year quite a
bit – he's British too. His travel to Concordia has been delayed and it
looks like he'll be out at the beginning of January. I've agreed to stay
on the base until he gets here so I can show him the ropes. Looking at
last year's schedule of the ship's rotations it looks like I'll be
getting into Australia around the very end of January. I've worked out
how to make use of the summer campaign, hopefully, with another ESA
project I wasn't able to run through the winter as we had hoped. I'm
really looking forward to a change of routine.

Paolo and Djamel have been working on getting some souvenirs made for us
– tshirts, postcards, that sort of thing. Paolo asked me to call the
makers in New Zealand to clear up a few things. Aside from the crew, my
fiancée and family, this guy was the first person I'd spoken to since
February. I have to admit it was slightly weird. But afterwards, it felt
good to be reconnecting with the normal world. A couple of days later I
called a shop in the highlands to order some bits for my camera. The
real world is definitely still out there! And by chance a couple of
weeks ago too, Andrea doc, with not much to do while keeping the radio
watch, managed to find a Radio Australia signal on our UHF. It's a
terrible signal but for occasional, random stretches it's pretty clear.
So occasionally I tune in to see if the signal is good. And it's really
great to be able to listen to something new, something current. The
first thing I listened to turned out to be on the international week of
the forest, - which I thought was pretty funny given I'm on the
continent without a single tree.

I've been thinking about the fact that we are more relaxed, and still a
bit more snappy and quick to argument that before, and I've been trying
to work out why. At first I though it's just tiredness, working six days
a week with not much to do to relax is hard work, for sure. Or maybe
it's just being fed up with being here. Or, maybe it's because we know
each other well now, and trust enough that it's OK to relax and let
loose the temper a little and it won't cause any lasting harm. But I'm
beginning to think that it's actually to do with the fact that the
winterover is ending. Life has been challenging and forced us together
in a way that's not so necessary now. And on the other hand, life has
been very simple up until now, and it's getting less so. Consider that
we've not driven anywhere, or walked through a crowd, or shopped, paid a
bill, been diverted by a telephone call, had no unexpected visitors, no
partners to accommodate, we have all the peace and quiet you could wish
for, and with only fourteen of us on the base we've had plenty space and
privacy. we've got such a complete mix of highly competent crew here
that all problems could be fixed without any fuss or cost, and the
people we live with are all experiencing the same challenges, and have
been fairly mutually supportive. And having a social life was just a
matter of turning up for a meal. But looking ahead to leaving, we're
facing complexity again and perhaps that's not very comfortable. Perhaps
already conflicting pulls are beginning to place a little stress on each
one of us. And perhaps we're beginning to assert our individuality that
we had subsumed for the sake of cohesion, and that comes with a loss of
tolerance. In other words, it's because we're not concentrated on now
any more, but distracted by the future, and what's happening beyond our
six-mile-radius disc.

Too, the longer you are away from home the more problems can accumulate
and sadly, a couple of the guys are going to go home to big changes or
big problems. For me and for others though, our big changes are great.
Thanks to his time here, Ilann has made contacts in the US and is
looking to arrange an internship in ocean chemistry in San Diego in the
US. And me, I've been offered a PhD by the Belgian group I've been
collecting data for, and I'll be heading to Brussels for a couple of
years. Quite how M and I are going to make that work I don't know yet
but we'll find a way. Andrea doc's plans for travelling through Asia are
nothing short of remarkable, and at the end he'll arrive home to a new
house in his beloved Bari that his family have helped him buy.

But for all that we are looking forwards and outwards, and renewing
connections with normal civilisation, it means that our talk is of
endings. Ending of the isolation, ending of darkness, ending of our
experiments, being relieved by our successors, Dates for leaving the
base. We're putting the base back the way it was in the summer campaign.
New arrivals are coming with what will be inevitably disruption of a
rhythm I doubt we can fully recognise until it's gone. We've gone
through such changes – personal as well as the environmental. Found ways
to work with people we never would in our previous worlds, and probably
gone through some big personality changes to do so. I'm starting to
think about going back to civilisation with just a little trepidation,
as I realise that old relationships might have to change too now to
accommodate a change in me, and that could be difficult. Actually, it
could be very difficult.

Hey, it's a long way off yet, Eoin. Keep your head down, don't lose focus.

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