The sun sits two fingers above the horizon. It is obscured by fine, white, icy clouds, but you can still make out its circular shape—dimming and brightening with each gust of wind and slight fluctuation in temperature. Pulsing, blinking, fluttering, stuttering, it jabbers away in a Polar Morse code. Transfixed, I stand in the middle of the frozen plateau, trying to decipher its speech, until my corneas start to burn, my eyes begin to water and my eyelids freeze shut.
“The sun has risen, the winter is over!” I can walk to work at the Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO) in broad daylight and can see the ARO from the station, which is a half-kilometer (quarter-mile) away. It doesn’t matter if it is cloudy or not. I no longer stumble over snow drifts and sastrugi on my walks outside and I’m awakened each morning by bright, natural light bouncing off the snow and the walls of the main station into my small, rectangular room.
Light-sensitive experiments that were turned on at sunset have been turned off, and window coverings throughout the station have been removed. As I drink my morning coffee, I can stare outside onto the icy white canvas I have called home for the past 11 months. If it is windy, I can see how windy it is, and if it is clear I can see for nearly 20 unobstructed kilometers (12 miles) to the horizon.
It hasn’t begun to warm up yet and it won’t for several more weeks, not until the sun climbs higher into the sky. Nonetheless, being able to observe the landscape around me, the blowing snow and shifting drifts, has lifted some type of psychosomatic weight from within me. The cold no longer feels quite as cold as it did when the sun still slept out of sight. Minus 62 Celsius (-80 F) feels like minus 45 (-50), and where once I wore two pairs of long underwear I now only wear one.
Perhaps I should have said, “The sun has risen, the winter is nearly over.” A million things still stand between us, the winter crew and station opening. The first flight is not due in for another four weeks. Before then, 3 kilometers (2 miles) of runway need to be groomed and a dozen outbuildings opened, heated and dug out. An end-of-season report looms over my head and ARO’s standard operating procedures have to be revised and rewritten for the incoming station chief and technician. Hundreds of air sample flasks need to be packaged and prepared for delivery, the solar radiation equipment installed, the carpets vacuumed… and the list goes on.
“The sun has risen, the winter is over—or so it seems?”
Less than two months stand between me, my flight off the continent and my return to civilization. It seems like freedom is just around the corner, but it isn’t. Each day ticks by second by second, and my perception of time seems to have inflated, expanded in step with the growing light, as if my newfound ability to see and observe the details of the endless polar landscape has made me hyper-aware of time, given me the power to feel each millisecond and wallow in the eternity of a single day. Though perhaps, given my growing to-do list — complete my performance evaluation, complete inventories for 10 different projects, install our all-sky camera — having time slow down for my final six weeks is a good thing.