It’s that time of year again: Across the country, men and women are packing their things and heading south for the Antarctic summer season. For the past two years, October has meant throwing my belongings into my faithful frame pack and heading to the South Pole to work for the United States Antarctic Program. “The Ice,” as USAP workers often call Antarctica, has a never-ending allure. With its vast expanses of white and otherworldly beauty, it is one of the most hauntingly lovely environments I have ever lived in.
But while old friends and co-workers already are making their way south for Amundsen-Scott Station’s annual reopening, I will not be joining them. I would love to return to the Antarctic Program one day, but I have made the decision — however bittersweet — to remain in the United States this year.
There are many reasons for my choice. Certainly, I’ll enjoy spending the holidays with my family again, and I won’t miss the months of powdered milk. More than anything else, though, I am staying because I am starting my way down a new career path, something that I need to continue to explore here in the United States.
In the few years since college, I have enjoyed varying jobs, ranging from ESL teacher to loader-operator, cook and cargo-handler. The most charitable of job interviewers described my resume as “eclectic.” While my passions have always lain in social advocacy, humanitarian work and writing, I have been searching for a trade that I can use to facilitate the work I love, wherever life happens to take me.
After volunteering with the Migrant Clinicians Network last summer as a translator, I have decided to go to nursing school to add “health care worker” to my list of skills. The day after making this decision, I signed up for classes at Baltimore City Community College to begin taking the necessary prerequisites.
Nursing is a skill that I can take all over the world. The possibilities are endless: from organizations like the International Red Cross and Doctors without Borders, to small towns in Maine, nurse practitioners and RNs are needed everywhere. Far from quashing my wandering ways, it’s a much-needed profession that can facilitate them. I just have to stay in one place long enough to get certified.
As much as I am enjoying my life here in the Baltimore-D.C. area (while admittedly less exotic, there is certainly much more to explore here than there is at South Pole Station), I get a small pang while talking to friends who are southbound. I call up old co-workers to get the news on who’s headed back down, who’s working what job, and to hear about what new things have gone on in people’s lives. Last season’s Fuels Foreman surprised us all by marrying one of our other co-workers this summer. Another Antarctic couple had a kayak wedding in Alaska, proving that South Pole love stories can endure. Perhaps some of the most exciting news, though, has been that of Jake, the longtime Antarctica Program veteran who got caught in a whiteout in Greenland last spring.
Alone and unequipped in a sudden Arctic storm, Jake dug a hole in the snow and hunkered in it for almost three whole days. Miraculously, he made it out of there. “Not many of us would have survived that,” was the unanimous reaction. For a long time, we were not sure how Jake would fare, and e-mail updates flashed back and forth with updates of his recovery.
Ultimately, Jake lost both of his feet as well as his right hand. But he dealt with this blow with characteristic style and panache that bowled over even his oldest co-workers. The first photos of Jake with his new right hook showed him playing pool — and winning. The next photos of Jake showed him with his two new prosthetic feet. He was surfing.
“Unbelievable,” said one of his former shift-mates on a late-summer phone call. “I can’t surf, and I have all four of my original limbs. It’s absolutely undeniable now: The man is a superhero.”
I hope to keep in touch with the South Pole community for years to come. There’s a lot of world out there to explore, and Polies seem to have a special aptitude for exploring it; as I dream up various plans for the future, I find myself often in contact with old friends from Antarctica for advice and a good yarn.
“Antarctica isn’t going anywhere,” one friend told me. “You can always come back south.”
Who knows; maybe I will go back to Antarctica again someday. And perhaps the next time I go back down, I’ll be a writer, an adventurer — and a nurse.
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 the BDN Web site: bangordailynews.com or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.