Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thoughts on air

Dictionary definitions of wind don't really cut it. Here are two: 

1. (Merriam-Webster) 'A natural movement of air of any velocity; especially : the earth's air or the gas surrounding a planet in natural motion horizontally.'
2. (The Free Dictionary) 'Moving air, especially a natural and perceptible movement of air parallel to or along the ground.'

I've been particularly aware of air the past 72 hours or so. This is partly because Steve, Cecil and Shawn have just taken us all through our dive safety procedures in preparation for forthcoming operations at the (almost ready) Herbertson Glacier site. As dive tenders, it's imperative that we know what to do (i.e how to administer oxygen, who to contact where and when, etc... ) in case of an emergency. 

'... Balancing on air is no easy task;
      tripping sees me float
      upwards or sideways, but never
      down...' From Give me thunder CB 2003
The traditional belief within symbology is that of the four basic elements - earth, air, fire and water - air is the primary one. There are two major ideas related to the element of air. One is the idea of breath and breathing and the other is the rather different reality of wind. Breathing relates to air on a personal level, while wind relates to air on a more cosmic level. Both represent life, the power of the spirit, the transient, ephemeral and elusive. 

Wind is in itself insubstantial and invisible - we see it and know it primarily by its effect. It can be tentative as a whisper, and yet - at the height of its activity - becomes the hurricane, with all the dynamism and energy attributed to processes of fecundation and regeneration. At this end of the continuum, there comes also the potential for expressions of violence and destruction. Interesting metaphors.
Air - the breath, breathing, inhaling and exhaling - is all-important when it comes to safe diving, too. And to safe tending. After dinner this evening, those of us who don't do this for a living spent a while re-familiarizing ourselves with oxygen cylinders, valves, regulators, lines and masks. Tomorrow morning we'll all accompany the divers out to one of the holes close to camp to carry out a mock rescue operation. I must admit that there's something a little discomforting - macabre even - about listening to your diver friends talk you through how you can be most effective and helpful to them in the (god forbid) event of Decompression Sickness or Arterial Gas Embolism. The reality, though, is that although such incidents are rare, there can be no room for complacency or naivete in environments such as this one.     

Two days ago, I was lucky enough to encounter a Condition Two storm on the far side of the Ferrar Sound - and then (happy, happy, joy, joy) to have to sleep out in it. It was exhilarating being caught - and temporarily held fast - in that fist of fierce weather. 

'... Rare sounds abound in these places where wind is 
      dressed in white; it roars and twists 
      and winds its way into rock and lungs
      and ice...' From New Harbour Psalm CB 2006 

I was reminded of Thoreau writing something along these lines; there's wildness in all of us, and a simple side that loves to walk. So, yes, I succumbed to both during those hours - my wildness and my simple side - and strode out into the wind. 

It does strike me as odd that when I'm on home turf, wind more often than not rumples and rattles me; it makes me want to batten down the hatches and stay indoors. And yet, here, the much greater force, noise and visual drama of a katabatic wind is an invitation for me to step outside. Standing in it, I find myself with an entirely different awareness of my body in space and possibly even in time. And if visibility's not what it's 'meant' to be and the usual familiar points of reference are no longer within grasp, it leads to an almost weightless feeling.  We're like feathers or flotsam in this place. This becomes even more apparent when we see and experience the wind 'at work,' displaying all the intention, zeal and passion of a sculptor mid-process. 


  1. Hello! I'm collecting flags. Visits my blogs please. THANK YOU

  2. Claire I was just wondering what the flags "speak" of during the Katabatic they seem as happy to be free in the wind as you seem to be or do they seem more trepid of either the wind or it's capabilities? I was just wondering. I know I always have loved the sheer powerful force of feeling the wind pull and push me in a wind storm yet am nervous when inside and hear the house's response to the same never seems to be the same as mine...I mean the house never seems to be happy to be able to be in the presence of such power. Maybe because I have never been in a new house and the older the house the more tired it is of the wind demonstrating it's power again. Not sure what it is I have just always noticed the difference and so was wondering about the flags. Enjoy the wonderful wind!

  3. Hi Miguel - thanks for visiting my blog. I've just visited yours and see that you are eleven years old and living in Wales. Am I right in thinking your home language is Spanish? It's great that you're collecting flags - would you like me to send you one from Antarctica? I am working with a group of great people down here and we'd love to make you one that has messages on it from everyone - we have scientists, divers, artists and musicians in our camp. I hope you come back to read this message! It would be best for you to send your postal address to me via my email address ( Not A good idea to post your mail details in on a public forum like this, okay? Take care - Claire