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 -