I’ve experienced a new dawn today. Seriously – my own Spring has sprung.

I’m so relieved. Yesterday, the sun set for the last time until August and I

think, in retrospect, that I have been feeling a bit down lately. Not depressed

but definitely apprehensive.

May-the-first: a date whispered amongst friends for a few weeks, a day we have

ritual and ceremony, a day we will party, the day when Winter truly begins.

This is what defines the overwintering antarctic experience at Halley. From

here on it will get colder and darker. The sun will set for the last time in

105 days.

Last week I was on night duty on the Laws platform. It was great – I’m

a night owl anyway, and having the space and peace of an empty base was a delight.

We overlapped in mornings and evenings, I was part of the activity but somehow

an observer, an onlooker, a step slightly to the outside of the community bubble.

The main purpose of nightshift is to be on-call. To be alert, awake, sober

and There, should any emergencies arise or, more hopefully, to prevent emergencies

arising. There’s also a little bit of cleaning and washing to be done as well

as weather observations sent to the Met Office at 3am and 6am to help forecasting

models. My favourite job, however, was bread-making. It’s ironic that I have

to come to the end of the world to appreciate simple joys in life that we can

have anywhere. Making bread for your 17 compatriots is a contribution, a service,

a nice thing to do, but also something that will be remembered, however the

bread turns out. Thankfully for me, the only criterion for passable bread seems

to be its toastability in the morning.

So the for last week of sun, I was asleep. When I woke up it was dark, when

I went to sleep it was dark. Really pitch black dark. The sun was to set at

the end of this week and I thought I had missed it forever. I started thinking

about the sun, and how much I have enjoyed watching it circle my head. The summer

days, perpetual light, circling, circling, so bright you need to wear shades

at midnight. The first sunsets, skimming the horizon, beautiful reds at 2am

if you’re still awake for them. The segregation of night and day, our first

planet, first star, the moon, auroras and the milky way. But days still light

and bright. New atmospheric phenomena with each progression of the cycle. Mirages,

sundogs, fogbows, sun pillars. I will miss the sun. I’ll miss it a lot. I tried

to convince myself that the moon and stars and darkness will hold new mysteries

and wonders but that elation, that joy you feel when you see fresh sunlight,

I can’t believe they can fulfill this role.

This is the onset of darkness, of winter, of temperatures too cold to enjoy

being outside when we have to create our own entertainment to keep spirits high.

May will be ok, and June, as this is still the run up to midwinter: Festivities

on Ice. But what about after that? July, August? What will we do then when the

novelty has worn off, fresh food will have run out and there will be no new

visitors until December? Did I not think about this before coming here?

I woke up today refreshed for the first time after shifting my body clock back

to days. A lovely lazy Sunday feeling on base. People sitting around the table

after a traditional Sunday brunch fry-up, laughing and cringing at photos from

the night before. It’s light outside. Folk on melt-tank duty get togged up to

go digging. Someone looks out of the window and says there’s a great sunset

happening. He’s right. I go outside to take some photos and go for a walk. It’s

beautiful. The sun might have set, but it’s shining a stunning red light up

onto the clouds with all its energy and they’re reflecting that light back down

on us. A red pillar of light on the horizon, held there for hours. The sun hasn’t

gone. The sun hasn’t gone! There is still light, there is still laughter, there

are still beautiful sights to behold. It’s gonna be ok. It’s going to be better

than ok, it’s going to be glorious.

I come inside for a cup of tea and see that my sprouted mung beans have gone

nuts. They’ve grown leaves and roots and stalks and everything. They’re huge!

Where can all this matter have come from? Just from a little dry bean, some

water and some light. There is life after sunset. Lots of life.

2 thoughts on “Sundown

  1. Hi Rhian,

    Pip and I have just been keeping up to date with your life, photos look great and i wonder how exited you will all be for the first runrise after so long, un controllable I expect. It’s great that Antartica can keep you so spell bound for so long it must be a magical place. I’m sorry (really) that your camping trip didn’t go to plan but it all sounded like a great adventure anyway. I look forward (really) to hearing all about abseiling into cravasses on your return. Everyone is well and we seem to have aquired a black sheep from your Mum.

    Love Tim and Pip

Comments are closed.