Monday, May 26, 2014

5. The Lions of Antarctica

Royal Society Range, Transantarctic Mountains, view from Hercules. Photo © Bruce Luyendyk
The Royal Society Range rises above the clouds over
McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. View from ANG Hercules.
Photo © Bruce Luyendyk
Excerpt from, chapter 5

Scene: At McMurdo Station, Ross Island, Antarctica, 1989. Bruce and the Team of five others are preparing to be inserted into the wilderness of the Ford Ranges, Marie Byrd Land, eight hundred miles to the east. After his first day in McMurdo Bruce spends the evening in one of the four bars in town. He drinks with geologists and students until midnight, then exists the bar…]

This had been fun but time was near midnight and I had things to do tomorrow. I said goodnight and walked out the door. “Ah, ah, ah…” I dropped my head, squinted and dug into my parka pockets for sunglasses, the light blinded me. I forgot, or I was too buzzed, no sunset in late November at 78 degrees south.

The sky showed itself calm and clear. I decided to take a bit of a stroll - weather’s great now. I faced left towards McMurdo Sound and saw a small white church at the end of the road. What? Small, like a shrunken down version of a New England church complete with a steeple and bell. It sat at the edge of the Sound above a slope that had a good vantage point.

At the church a sign read Chapel of the Snows, I went in an unlocked door. I figured it’s always open for business. It had been a couple of decades since I’d been in a church – decided I had enough of Confession. Didn’t look too much like a church inside, pretty minimal, plain walls. No one was here at midnight - quiet, I felt comfort. A few rows of padded chairs faced an altar table with a stained glass window behind – a nice touch but it blocked the view. A room to the right had windows over the frozen Sound. In the room a coffee urn was on. I grabbed a cup and stood to look out, my first chance to see it all and think alone.

The scene presented white and deep brilliant blue. The Sun sat low in the southern sky. I looked west, miles across the ice covered Sound - viewed the carved, faceted peaks of the Royal Society Range, they glowed white. Shadows of the peaks lay over wide glaciers that cut through them. I knew these mountains stood 13,000 feet above the sea ice. I thought I could make out horizontal rock layers in the higher peaks – those must have been formed under the sea, and then uplifted with these mountains. When was that?

I imagined what it would be like to stand on those mountaintops, to view the infinity of ice beyond them, the excitement of that, the aloneness. The longer I stared at the range the more my imagination worked. I saw the peaks as members of a pride of white lions crouched at rest. They faced me, guarded the colossus of the interior, dared me to enter.

 Soon we will be in the wilderness – in conditions much harsher than here. I will have to be ready. I didn’t feel sure of myself as I faced this fact, it confused me what to do about it. Am I up for this? It doesn’t matter.

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