Thirty Six Square Feet of Bliss

November 19th
Dear Deany,

With less than three weeks to go out here in the Friis Hills, Anne is desperate for a storm. A nasty head-down, snorkle-hooded, duck-and-cover gale would certainly interrupt the monotony of twenty-four hour sunshine and endless uniformly blue skies. It is not that she is a glutton for punishment, but it would be nice to see our merry crew of geologists suffering some real Antarctic weather at some point in our movie. At the moment, as we keep joking, the weather looks, through the camera, ideal for taking a stroll down to the vegetable garden and harvesting a few bunches of bananas.

Finally over the last few days the wind has come up, stripping every last bit of warmth out of every nook and cranny and pushing dense and threatening clouds through the dry valleys. But so far it doesn't look cold, it just is cold.

Lying in the Scott tent the last few nights has made for some quite exciting moments, although I would be surprised to learn that the wind had ever gusted much above twenty-five knots. A real Black Island style blow would be grisly, leaving us wide-eyed and panic-stricken. Even at fifteen to twenty the double-walled canvas teepee I live in hums and flaps and vibrates and one starts to consider in quite an obsessive way whether or not enough hard work was done when setting the thing up. Is that new, strange sound the flapping of a loose guy-wire? The hefty chunks of rock I tied them to on the calm afternoon of my arrival ought probably to have been buried under a pile of more rocks, after all, they weren't so hefty that I wasn't able to pick them up. And it occurs to me that compared to those, the ones I hastily scattered around the apron of the tent are mere pebbles. Do I hear wind whistling under the lip of the tent, lifting it up? I'm deep in my bag, and to go outside and assuage my paranoia would require a major operation of dressing and bundling and booting, not to mention the complete write-off of all my carefully preserved nocturnal pockets of sleeping bag warmth. Unthinkable. Perhaps if I listen to my ipod I won't be plagued by all the flapping. Wait. What's that ripping sound?

I've complicated my life in these trying, windy times by orienting my tent so that the entrance faces the south and the Polar Plateau, source of the katabatic gusts we have been experiencing. Our first day in camp, back at Mt. Boreas almost a month ago, I was excited to put into practice the knowledge gained at "snow school." We had learned that the mouth of a Scott tent should be canted some forty-five degrees off of the downwind axis, to minimize snow drift and wind impact.

"What's the prevailing wind direction here?" I asked, chirpily, as if to prove that I was on the ball, thinking things through, prepared to go the distance.

"Just take a look around yourself here at the way the snow drifts up into narrow piles behind the rocks," replied Professor Ashworth, in an academic podium tone suggesting that I might better in future engage brain prior to requesting clarification of the obvious. So when we arrived here at Friis Hills I drew on this lesson for inspiration, reading the drifted snow like tea leaves and then manhandling my tent, solo, into the proper orientation. But something went wrong somewhere, an insignificant sample size, perhaps, or the failure to include a control group. Now that the winds have started to blow they meet my entranceway full in the face. The opening of a Scott tent is a round canvas tube, a sort of nozzle-like appendage attached to one wall, through which I must crawl to get in and out. In the wind I must now keep this roped closed, cinched tight, but it nonetheless blows inward, taking up valuable real estate and, inflated, looking like nothing so much as a single, enormous yellow breast, protruding into my living space. Frigid air bellows in through the nipple.

Inside the tent is a jaundiced, yellow world. It is a bit like living inside of a sundial; since the sun never sets one approximates the time by peering out of the maw of the sleeping bag to observe which wall or corner of the tent glows most brightly. Despite the thick insulation, the yellow glow of the sun penetrates the sleeping bag, within which all glows red, warm and womblike. It is most difficult to redeliver oneself into the world each morning.

Gray clouds on the horizon, rolling in low over the Taylor Glacier....


November 20
Morning update:

If it wasn't gusting up to forty last night, my name is Ratzinger. Periodic snoozes with the narcotic ipod earbuds buried deep in the canal to combat the roar were interrupted by sudden, stomach-churning blasts of glacially chilled air, which threatened to peel the tent off of the rocky ground like a wet band-aid. Buffeting, Rending, Roaring and Whistling collaborated in an ongoing and persistent assault. Within my insular yellow capsule the external world ceased to exist; outside the tent everything was distilled down to one essential essence, the onslaught of the fearsome, ornery and pernicious wind. The forces of evil gathered, swirling, lewd and leering, poking, prodding, looking for a way in.

At some point this morning I will pour the last dribble from my thermos, or my pee bottles will fill to overflowing, or I will munch the last of my emergency supply of McVitie's biscuits. Any of which events will precipitate a crisis, forcing me to venture out onto the wind-battered plain in search of supplies: perhaps a lone remnant sachet of instant soup awaits me there, trapped by a boulder, or the last shards of an exploded bag of gorp, a few butterscotch bits scattered amongst the rocks. At which point I will be able to tell you if any of my dear companions survived the night, or if they have all, as I now suspect, been blown, tents and all, over the rim of Pearse Valley and down, down, down into the canyon below....

1 comment:

Andrian said...

I think the last - well, probably the only - time I felt like that was during the 1994 Northridge Earthquake in Los Angeles, At least that was over after 45 seconds. Sailing through a storm on the high seas must come close. Is this your hero's journey in the purest Joseph Campbell sense? I don't think Campbell was thinking about conspiring Gael forces, under decevingly blue skies though. Aren't you supposed to slay a dragon or win a battle or do something else manageable like that?