Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Repertoire of sounds

I should be fast asleep (it's 1.47AM) but instead I'm tucked up in my sleeping bag, listening through headphones to various sound recordings I've collected over this past week. I wouldn't ordinarily choose to do this - plug myself into my computer pre-sleep - as I so love tuning in to the sound (or absence of sound, depending...) that accompanies these icy nights. But for a few hours tonight, the generator's on, and, much as I appreciate its invaluable contribution to camp life, the noise it makes knocks my ions about and its loud rumbling never fails to feel like a rude intrusion. 

So, what have I been recording - and what am I listening to? 

The wind. Wordless walks across a myriad textures of ice. The scrunch of crampon-ed boots on volcanic grit. McMurdo's telephone wires being taunted into song by high winds (you wouldn't believe the harmonics). The unearthly notes of a gas cylinder's hum. The clonk and split of chipping ice. The achingly poignant call of Katherine's bell vessels as they encountered this frozen landscape for the first time. Bubbles rising from 60 feet below the ice to effervesce then burst across the surfaces of dive holes. Helicopter rotors. Flags flapping. Wind. Breath. Silence.

Earlier this evening, I wrote a letter home trying to describe how Explorers Cove has re-drawn itself this year (and of course, this would be true of every year, but I can only refer back here to the place I first met three years ago).  Here's a smidgeon of what I wrote, 'It's as though the ice is a totally different substance with a totally different character.  The intricate calligraphy - those multifarious and meticulous drawings the ice delivered up in 2005 - has made way for wide gestural marks. Just about all the detail and subtlety of that time has been buried beneath a crude, spontaneous impasto. There's volcanic grit everywhere; the sea ice is brown and grey-blue as opposed to milky white or glass-like or transparent turquoise. It's chaotic and messy and I find myself liking it like this, a lot... ' 

It seems to me that alongside the exciting science projects and the almost-constant info-gathering I'll be doing for my own creative practice, one of the tasks of my time here is simply to be present and to listen. Mostly, I think, it's to listen. 

Listening has many aspects to it, of course - it's a dynamic, proactive process. It not only means listening to, but listening for and on behalf of

The ice is going to become increasingly challenging to walk across as the season progresses. The transition moat is already starting to thaw in places, so walking whilst carrying precious cargo such as foram samples, scallop arrays and fragile porcelain pieces can be a breath-holding experience. It's almost as though the ice is asking us to approach our journey mindfully, to walk the distance from 'here to there' like a meditation. So, this is something I am trying to do. It's an exercise in concentration, application and surrender all at once.

Almost inevitably, the subject of the sublime has come up in conversations both here and in letters from friends interested in the subject. I'd love to explore what it means, not only in relation to this ice-covered continent but also in the context of other wilderness experiences and spaces, be those spiritual, physical, metaphysical, existential, personal, communal, etc... 

Any thoughts on this subject? Please share them -   


  1. Hello Clara, I have finally figured out how to get into these comments and have been pulling my hair out at being so stupid with this confounded but wonderful technology - and to think I'm involved in e-commerce - quite scary! I have mailed you and do not know if you are able to receive mail or not so just want to let you know (in a public domain) that I have had your Blog open ever since I received the link and keep refreshing it to see if any new updates have come through and when they do, the eyes well up with pride and envy for what you are doing. My goodness, I feel so insignificant with my 2 intrepid sisters having travelled to opposite poles a month apart - you're both so passionate about what you do - you could both teach a lot of us more than a thing or two! I don't want to write a long note to you here but to please just let you know that I think of you and your journey constantly, as do Les, Phil & Tor-Tor too....please be safe and keep doing all those wonderful things you are doing. We wait with bated breath to see what happens in the US with their elections and no doubt so will the rest of your team and indeed the world! We miss you loads .. lol Brod

  2. Hi Johnno - so wonderful to find your note and pic on this site. Thank you for following the story. It is a total joy and privilege to be here. I pinch myself most days - I am receiving but not writing emails while here because I so want to stay present to the place and the whole experience. I know you'll understand. X Think of you all heaps - and thank you for sending pics from Les's 40th; sounds as though you had a magic time. Hugs to you all. Clara XX

  3. hey claire

    your pics and your words and the sounds I can hear through your words, and the ideas, the questions, the sense of space, of presence, of waiting, of listening, of not being in control (but in a good way..) .. it's all so lovely and inspiring to read. Beautiful. Thanks, Catherine