Christmas Letter 2008

24th December 2008

SANAE IV, Vesleskarvet, Antarctica

It seems odd to sit and write a Christmas letter about a year so far from home, when the intervening time feels so much shorter. Before embarking on this special journey, my greatest fear was not cold, nor isolation nor loneliness, but boredom, yet now I realise the naivety. A year ago I was still on my way to Antarctica aboard the SA Agulhas, stuck fast in the pack ice tantalisingly close to the ice-shelf but not to reach the continent for several days. Now I have lived here through every season, the long dark depths of winter and the most ferocious storms recorded here, and it feels like the journey is barely beginning, let alone coming full circle. It was only yesterday’s departure of the ship from South Africa on its southbound voyage to bring the new summer teams and fetch us that struck home â?? we have truly entered the closing acts of the play, and home lies ahead. Of course, just where and what ‘home’ is forms part of the story!

Much of the detail of what has happened in the past year is to be found here on my blog with pictures and interesting links to accompany it. Of course, there are plenty of stories that remain to be told… and will be, in time. Thinking back, highlights that stand out are often particularly pure moments rather than accomplishments; I think of the fury and power of the winter storms; the clarity of the light playing every colour on the ice and snow as the sun waned and disappeared in autumn and then faithfully returned in Spring. I think of the brilliance of a sunny cloudless day; the incredibly fresh air; the sight of snow petrels courting between dark rocks, bright snow and azure sky. I recall sweating on my ski’s with only the wind for company and having the sweat freeze inside my clothes; frozen eyelashes and a beard bonded in ice with my buff; falling in soft snow and hard ice alike but always getting up. I dream of the deepest night skies and the aurora caressing the stars.

Today I was out with a spade â?? as one is so often here â?? digging in the snow; this time to clear the opening of our snow smelter so that the strong wind can blow in the heavy snowfall to make us more water. We are certainly getting a white Christmas – a year ago I would have called today’s weather a blizzard. Certainly, the wind is strong (about 60-70km/h) with snow blowing everywhere and limited visibility. While I dug I ruminated on how normal it has become to dress in multiple layers, seal the face with a balaclava and goggles, and breathe through a small opening while digging in a waist-deep snowdrift. This life, this landscape has become part of me, and although it will show little sign of my transient presence it has changed me deeply. This year has been a fascinating career move; a shift from my first passion (clinical medicine) to include other loves â?? adventure, the wilderness, etc. Despite trying to study medical things, I’ve learnt far more about people, leadership, and myself, than I ever intended. I’ve realised that I will never be able to settle without adventures to undertake, but more importantly I’ve realised that’s OK. I’m very fortunate that the future is full of exciting possibilities, with work ranging from general practice to emergency medicine to anaesthetics to expedition medicine every where from Cape Town to the Arctic. Part of the excitement is not knowing yet what to choose 😉

My immediate family is up to all sorts of things, and although most who know them will no doubt be getting more detailed news I’ll summarise: My father, David, is still moving and shaking with his businesses in Cape Town, although I know he is making them run more and more without his daily input, the wise man. Jane, my stepmother, continues to excel in everything she turns her mind to and has been becoming a botanist on the side. Stephen took a gap year last year and has been acquitting himself well this year in engineering (electronic/computer) at UCT. Laura has just matriculated and is winging off soon for a gap year in Europe. Kate seems to be thriving in high school (St Cyprians) although I’m not cool enough to get spoken to by her very often, (grin). My mother, Robynn, has continued her globe-trotting ways and is now teaching at an aeronautical college in Qatar in the Middle East. Who knows what the new year will bring?

We are expecting the summer expedition to arrive here in the second week of January. The takeover period will be frantically busy, and then we sail around 24 February for South Africa, to arrive (if all goes according to plan) on 5 March. I will be taking some hard-earned time off as well as writing some exams (for a post-grad diploma), and then moving on to whatever is next. Big news (and brand new, as it’s happening today) is that I have just had an offer to purchase a flat in Rosebank (Cape Town) accepted, and so by the time I come back I should at least have a place to live and call home base. What comes next is up to God, serendipity and itching of my feet!

Wherever this message finds you, I wish you peace and happiness, not just for the Christmas season but into the New Year and beyond. Count the blessings you have but never limit those you give; celebrate all forms of life; cherish those you love. I leave you with words from the Dead Sea Scrolls which struck me deeply after my time here:

So I walk an uplands unbounded

and know that there is hope

for that which Thou

didst mould of dust

to have consort with things Eternal

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