Wednesday, January 11, 2017

One Year Later: Reflections on my time in Antarctica

One Year Later:
Reflections on my time in Antarctica

Winter has finally arrived in Boston. People are bundled up in parkas, winter hats, thick gloves, heavy boots, and scarves, as if they were in Antarctica, not Massachusetts. They complain about Boston’s cold and windy winter months, and I can’t help but laugh.
It has now been over a year since I went on my research expedition to Antarctica. And, while I am definitely enjoying a relaxing, mundane winter break at home, the anniversary of my extraordinary trip and the onset of winter in Boston have brought to mind memories, good and bad, of my time at the bottom of the world. I have finally had a chance to reflect on those unique experiences— experiences that have changed my life in ways both subtle and profound.

There are some things about Antarctica that I don’t miss. Some experiences are so uncomfortable that, despite being part of such a remarkable adventure, they can’t be remembered with even the slightest fondness. First of all, I sacrificed most comforts that the developed world takes for granted: shower, fresh food, running water, telephone, internet, toilet, and much more. Without these amenities, my weeks in the Dry Valleys were among the harshest that I have ever experienced. (On our first day back, although I was sad to be leaving our campsite, the relief of having access to a hot shower, a hot meal, plumbing, and a mattress was ineffable.)
And of course the Antarctic temperature was brutally frigid. Our struggle to stay warm never really ended, with temperatures ranging from unbearable to just sufferable. Life in general, and geological field work in particular, is very hard when you can’t feel your face, feet, or hands. I actually got a very minor case of frostbite on my right hand. The cold wasn’t just uncomfortable, but it actually posed a health risk.
Along with the obvious physical struggle of living in Antarctica came the less expected psychological struggle. It was the first year of my life that I wasn’t home for winter break. I missed Christmas, New Year's Day, birthdays, and a wedding. Some days, a powerful feeling of homesickness set in. I missed my family, friends, and neighbors, most of whom I hadn't seen for a year. Away from cell phone towers and internet access, I couldn’t even contact them remotely. After an extremely stressful semester, it would have been great to at least hear their voices. Missing them was one of the biggest sacrifices I had to make. And now that I am home, I can appreciate just how valuable my time with loved ones really is.