A passing of seasons and locales

Posted April 30, 2009, at 9:02 p.m.

Far in the Southern Hemisphere, on the other side of the world, everything is flipped: Orion and the Big Dipper hang upside down in the sky, winter is summer, fall is spring.

While spring comes slowly and surely to Maine, I have watched a New Zealand summer pass through autumn. The dewy alpine meadows that once soaked my pant legs are no longer wet in the early mornings, but frozen. The last mountain pass I crossed glittered with the white dusting of a first snow. Soon it will be winter in New Zealand.

“Listen,” I said to a fellow hiker as we walked through a frozen meadow. “You can hear the grass clinking.”

“It’s about time to leave the hiking trails,” she said. “Unless you’ve got crampons and an ice ax.”

I drove down from the colder heights of the mountains into the lower, warmer Southland, to the seaside city of Dunedin. My van joined several others in a parking lot with handwritten for-sale signs in the back windows.

The passing of the seasons pulls many itinerant peoples around the globe; some move from harvest to harvest, others from fishing grounds to the shore. The turning seasons pulled me from Antarctica to New Zealand; soon, it would be time to follow summer toward the Northern Hemisphere. I took refuge from the autumn chill in Dunedin’s famous Otago Museum.

A woman passing out maps greeted me at the museum’s entrance. “Be sure to check out our special exhibit,” she told me as I went inside.

“What is it on?” I asked her.

“Antarctica!” she said. “All photographs, taken by Andris Apse. Isn’t that neat?”

I walked straight up the floors to the special exhibits room and right into a gallery of images of an old home of mine.

Andris Apse’s photographs filled the room with the white and blue of a landscape I knew well. Apse had had an artist’s grant to go down to Antarctica, where he photographed primarily the Antarctic coast. Most of his photographs had been taken of the Dry Valleys — exactly where I was living this time last year. During the spring of 2008, I worked for three months as a cook at the Marble Point Air Facility, a refueling station or helicopter “truck stop” for science field research with the U.S. Antarctic program.

I walked from photo to photo. There was the Wilson Piedmont Glacier, standing just above where I had been stationed. There was Lake Vanda, its frozen shape set into the valley between chiseled white peaks, exactly as I remembered it. I wanted to grab other people wandering through the exhibit by the elbow and point —“See that? I used to live there!” I recognized the glacial pond where I used to gather water for our field camp. A familiar red dot silhouetted against the white of an iceberg was a Bell 212 helicopter, the kind I rode in to get to and from the main base.

Recognition and familiarity mingled with incredulity as I walked through the exhibit. It was almost hard to believe that the wide, glossy images on the wall of a museum were photographs of a place where I once lived.

For the first time in weeks I began to wonder how my comrades still in Antarctica were faring. The seasons are turning there, too, from autumn to the dark winter. The last dregs of daylight will have just disappeared on the Antarctic coast, and darkness would have fallen weeks ago at the South Pole. The moon will have risen, the stars come out, and the temperature will have hit minus 80 F. The people who are wintering over are growing accustomed to their new routines, picking up new chores within their diminished community, coming up with new activities as they adjust to the darkness outside.

I left the Otago Museum and walked the streets of Dunedin with autumn crisp in the air. Yellow leaves floated down from the trees to line the streets, and a brisk wind rustled them past the storefronts and the coffee shops. This university town was the perfect place for my last pot of tea in New Zealand.

In five months, the sun will rise over Antarctica again and spring will come to New Zealand, but I will not be there to see it. It’s time for me to go back to my first home — the place that will always be my own true corner of the world. I fly back to Maine, and straight into springtime.

Meg Adams, who grew up in Holden and graduated from John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor and Vassar College in New York, shares her experiences with readers each Friday. For more about her adventures, go to bangordailynews.com or e-mail her at madams@bangordailynews.net.

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