Thursday, December 15, 2005

One Step Closer to Home

Its 11:30, I’m sitting in the McMurdo Station computer lab on Ross Island, Antarctica. Five glasses of wine in me, I’m feeling profound. Tonight’s blog is dedicated to my father, Alex Friedman, forever in our hearts. Why, I’m not sure but he’s come up a bunch in the last few days and I figure its time to address it. It has something to do with what I’ve been reading obsessively the last few days, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Persig. The book is about a father and son voyage through the heart of America, but its also about science, art and insanity (my favorite 3 subjects, in that order).

I’m sorry to have been absent from stage the last few days but the change in my condition has been profound and I needed some time to process it and take a deep breath. Wednesday afternoon (my time) I finally made it out of the South Pole on an LC-130 Hercules cargo prop plane. Once again I had the great fortune of sitting on the flight deck. Two pole flights in a row, it’s a very rare coincidence and I may be the only grantee ever to receive such treatment. This time though, I have to say I was a bit jaded. How much more of Antarctica could I possibly swallow. I was unimpressed by the glaciers and mountaintops peeking through miles of ice. I sat calmly with headphones in place, thinking of home and my tsaritsa.

Leaving the South Pole, I passed through the passenger terminal (hehehe).

Visible out the cockpit window, MAPO and QUaD, it was a bittersweet farewell.

Then the after a mid-air turnaround the station came into view. Below lay my entire world for a whole month. That was all I knew, its borders were as impenetrable as prison walls yet they were open and vast as an American prairie.

I sat uninterested until the volcano came into view. Wow. I once flew to Seattle for an astrophysics conference, back when I was actually productive and useful. As I flew across the vast northern Rocky Mountains I was impressed to say the least. I had crossed them once by car, but by plane their mass was awesome. Then I saw it, a bit further west, the volcano stood above like a king on a throne. Its shadow cast upon what looked now like foothills below. Mt. Rainier was nothing short of superior. This is how I now saw Mt. Erebus, the active volcano that looms over McMurdo and the Ross Sea.

It doesn’t look like much from the picture I am sure, but in the flight deck I was certain we would fly right into it, it was unavoidable like the night. Well funny enough, down here the night is quite avoidable and we landed safe and sound. I really have to give the pilots some credit though. The fog was pea soup thick, I was scared.

We landed, thank god we landed and a wave of peace passed over me as I disembarked from the plane. This time around we landed further south of the station than back in November. This is because the ice runway used in the beginning of the season starts to melt into the Ross Sea by this time of year. This allows naval icebreakers to make their way into the sound. The old runway gets too soft. This other runway was far enough away and difficult enough to reach to warrant a special transport, the Delta. A conservative estimate dates this vehicle to the 50s.

I keep thinking back to my time at pole. Its funny what seclusion can do to you. It drove me a little mad, as much as I am embarrassed to admit fault, I went a little nuts down there. More than anything it was the lack of control. I hate not being in control, I crave control, I need control. All I wanted was to do my own thing and walk off station, leave. I couldn’t and it made me claustrophobic. It made me crazy. Why was everyone else so passive? I felt like a wolf among sheep. It’s funny, every day that I was there it felt like eternity. There was never an end in sight. Now I think back, I can’t even remember the details. I’ve been gone for 2 days and it feels like I was never there! Was I in some trance?

Now as the hour turns it’s Friday. I was supposed to fly out today back to NZ and one step closer to home. This has now been delayed until Saturday. Somehow, I can wait now, somehow the stress and uneasiness of pole has passed over me and now I feel like I can wait. Not that I want to … believe me. To pass the time I have been reading, insanely. I probably spent 8 hours reading today, since I got up this morning until now except for meals. After dinner tonight I went to this cool coffee shop and wine bar just a few short steps from where I am staying. It’s just called the coffee house.

I just sat in a corner for 3 hours and read quietly to myself while drinking cabernet and listening to Death Cab. It was probably the best 3 hours I have had down here. I felt calm and at ease. The bartender even grew fond enough of my tips to give me an Australian tea-tree oil toothpick; it was good. Then they closed at 11, a bit early for my tastes but I had enough and was ready to leave really. So, I took a little walk outside and snapped some quick photos of my surroundings.

The peak in the background is called Observation Hill. It’s apparently the best view of the Island and sound available. Tomorrow I will hike up and see what I can see.

Ok, so what about my dad huh? Well I don’t know, but I have been thinking of him a lot since I got down here. I guess it all started with my brother telling me that my father would be proud of me for this. My dad proud of me, I suppose I don’t even know what that would be like! The whole thing about this trip has been that I was supposed to feel really special and unique for this opportunity. Yet, I don’t feel it. So many people I care about seem proud of me, or at least interested and amused. For some strange reason, the only person who I’d really like some praise from is him.

Today at dinner I sat with Bob the machine shop guy. That’s him in the Delta.

We got to talkin about our fathers. Bob’s real dad died on the Eastern front in World War II; a Russian. His stepfather a skilled mechanist trained in German concentration camps. I told him about my grandfather escaping from the siege of Leningrad and how chance-like my entire existence is, how it rides on some odd twists of fate. I told him what I knew about my father, not much. Athletic, a disc and jav champ when he was young. Musical, a sometimes rodie and later a jazz fanatic. Hard working, an automotive mechanic and businessman who in his glory days drove clients’ Porches and Lamborghinis for fun. A funny, strong and lovable man with many friends and a wonderful wife. Wood fires on a winter night, personal pint of Haagen–Daz and a Hockey game. Died when I was 13, same year the Rangers won the Stanley Cup.

Proud of me? Could that ever be true, what for? I guess I’ll never know but that’s what’s on my mind tonight as I write all this down for posterity.


Anonymous Avinash Karnani said...

I am so proud of you Rob.

10:40 PM CST  

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