Saturday, December 11, 2010 — On the Plane to Christchurch, 7:30 p.m.
Sat, 12/11/2010 - 7:30pm
I am sitting on my way back to “civilization” and thinking about all I have seen and learned in just a few short days. This morning we had a roundtable session that was open to all who wanted to attend. While there were not a large number of people in attendance, the ones that did come, came with a message. Most were enormously pleased with their experience, but some expressed concerns about the availability of sufficient transportation to carry them out to the remote work sites and camps. With the summer months so short, time here is precious and if the researchers are not able to get out to their work sites, they become frustrated very quickly. All in all it was an interesting discussion that lasted two hours and provided a unique insight as to why some of these folks come here to this remote spot to live in less than ideal conditions. The answer is clear – they have an incredible passion for what they do and a love for this unique land of ice and cold.
Following our roundtable discussion we visited the wooden hut erected by Robert F. Scott. It was from here that Scott began his ill-fated expedition to the Pole, and it stands as tribute to the courage and tenacity of all the Antarctic explorers who braved the elements and withstood untold hardships to explore this marvelous and unforgiving place.
As I think back to my visit here, I reflect on what a remarkable place McMurdo Station is. It is a 53-year-old outpost located on the shore of frozen McMurdo Sound, at the edge of the Ross Sea on the New Zealand side of the continent and 800 miles north of the South Pole. Life here is unique and in many ways simple. There is no traffic and no crime. There are no cell phones, no plants, and with the exception of a few couples, no families – one misses the presence of children. It is an American outpost in a land owned by no one that serves as a research laboratory like no other in the world. The inhabitants are a hardy and dedicated bunch who have come to do a job; they must enjoy/endure solitude and I suspect leave changed in many ways.
The pilot announces that we are beginning our descent into Christchurch. The five-hour-flight to civilization seems incredibly short when you consider the differences between McMurdo, the Pole, and the rest of the world. As the door opens, we see the sunshine and feel the warmth and I am acutely aware of two things: the color, there is green and the bright colors of plants and flowers everywhere as opposed to the stark contrast of black (the earth) and white (the snow and ice); and the smells – the smell of vegetation is something that I had not realized I had missed, but it floods my senses.
As we arrive back in New Zealand and pick up our baggage, I look forward to the 24-hour journey back to Atlanta – I am ready to be home.
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Sat, 12/11/2010 - 6:00am