Place Where You Live:

Byrd Surface Camp, Western Antarctica


Before I leave the familiar world of day and night, animal tracks and trees, I imagine the flat white as a temporarily fascinating boredom. At McMurdo Station, days before I fly 900 miles west to live in a tent on the ice-sheet, a new friend compares the nothingness to open ocean. He suggests cloud-watching as a substitute for topography.

 Later, when I become acquainted with the emptiness , I realize that it feels like standing on the edge of a cliff—the pull towards the unending horizon is vaguely disconcerting. On calm days I kick and glide to the end of the ski-way and understand what my friend said about feeling at sea, except here the only thing that swells is my heart.

Clouds do take the place of mountains—details that are either absent in the rest of the world or too subtle to be noticed no longer need to compete for our senses. There are innumerable distinct sounds of snow— the squeak of scoured areas underfoot, a shovel blade excavating a storm-damaged tent, footsteps muffled in a four foot drift. The soft snow that blows against my tent wall seeps into my dreams and becomes soft rain, a breeze in branches, or radio static. The unending noise of wind is neither howl nor shriek nor roar, but an entirely encompassing Tower of Babel. A shift in wind direction inspires unease and when the wind dies, it seems we have lost something irretrievable. The silence is as dense as a lover’s secrecy.

In the color-bound world I travel in the wilderness alone, climbing ridges or peaks to see where I have been and where I am going. Here I must use the faces of fellow camp members as route markers. This is the first place I’ve lived where I understand fundamentally that community is necessity.

On the iridium phone I am pressed to explain the indescribable. “Imagination”, I say, “this emptiness is imagination.” Like the mind, the flat white contains nothing and everything. It is a possessive landscape.