It may seem a bit odd, but as spring approaches here in the northern hemisphere and warmth returns (something I’ve been eagerly anticipating for about four months now), I find myself waxing a bit nostalgic for Antarctica. The reader is probably a bit gobsmacked by this, but there is actually a very logical reason for it.
This is the time of year in Antarctica when all the summer people have left. Winter is approaching, and the population of McMurdo Station has dropped from 1200 to about 100. The mad hubbub of the last few months has disappeared, and everything has quieted down. It’s not generally a very stormy time of year, so there is a very peaceful aspect to the world. The sun is slowly disappearing, sinking lower and lower in the sky each day until it disappears entirely. In McMurdo, that happens on about April 22. But the light! The light is fantastic! Colors missing for months in the harsh summer sun come back with a splash, reflected and refracted by old ice and new. It’s a stupendously beautiful time to be in Antarctica.
In early April, during my first winter in McMurdo, my friend Kerry called me from the Berg Field Center. (The BFC is where scientists go to pick up the gear they need to work in the field: tents, sleeping bags, ice axes, and the like.) I was working in the Biolab, which had no windows.
“Go outside and look at the moon,” she said.
I dropped what I was doing and headed out the front door, and this is what I saw:
Wow. The moon was sliding sideways over Mount Discovery, which was painted pink by a sun that was just below the horizon, and it was all reflecting off a newly formed sheen of ice over McMurdo Sound. Although the air was very cold, it was dead calm. I ran in to get my camera and tripod and ended up shooting about three rolls of film, until the moon finally dipped below the horizon far to the other side of the mountain. (Because McMurdo Station is so far south, neither the moon nor the sun rise or set straight up or down. Instead, they track sideways, dipping down as they go. In the summer, they just go around the sky in a big circle, never even touching the horizon.)
This is one of my all-time favorite Antarctic photos, and seeing it always reminds me of the peaceful, joyful time I had that winter, six of the best months of my life.
P.S. This was also the day I realized that, in Antarctica, the moon is upside down. The photo below was taken about an hour later than the previous one, when the moon has moved far to the left of the mountain as it approaches the horizon.