Monday, 10 October 2011

Reaching out

Now we've passed the equinox, our days are longer than yours. Unless
you are one of the 70 or so people of this planet closer to the
geographic south pole than we are. True darkness is gone already,
and with it the awesome sights of the night sky. In all sorts of ways
Concordia is coming out of 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 7th-12th. 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. 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, although 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 1st
of February. Family is a bit disappointed but hey, I have to admit
I?m not surprised at all and ? thank God - neither is my very
forgiving fiancee. 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. And 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

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. 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 too, life has been
very simple. When you think that we've not driven, shopped, paid a
bill, been diverted by a telephone call, no unexpected visitors, no
partners to accommodate, we've got such a complete set of highly
competent crew here every problem could be fixed without any fuss or
cost, and the people we live with are all experiencing the same
challenges. 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. 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.

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 group
in Brussels I've been collecting data for. 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 wonder if 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.

Concordia station 75°06'06''S - 123°23'43''E
Local time UTC + 8

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