After the long long night, the emergence of a distant glow was a bitter-sweet phenomenon. We got out to experience the dwindling remnants of the season’s Auroras, and started to mentally prepare ourselves for the beginning of the end.
Seeing that light on the horizon was a bizarre feeling after half a year of darkness every time you ventured outside. It was a great morale boost for most, and lifted the mood throughout the station. That palpable change when you walked outside, reminded me of those times late on a night shift at the hospital, when the first glimpse of dawn heralds the wearing off of the 5am cortisol slump that makes you feel terrible, and the imminent arrival of the day shift cavalry to take over.
As the sky slowly lightened, the light sensitive experiments that measure auroras were sequentially shut off (some are sensitive enough that when the moon was full over winter, they had to be switched off to avoid burning out the sensors). Once the last was off, that cleared the way for the window covers to be removed, and us to peer out into the evolving gloom. After staring at the same bits of cardboard every day, some adorned with more creative pictures than others, it was weird to see our reflections in the glass. It made for an awesome time-lapse, of the windows progressively had their covers removed.
The suns gradual appearance had been a while in the making, with the faintest of glows evident towards the direction where the sun was shrouded by the horizon. Gradually over a month or so, the jet black of night transitioned to a midnight blue on one side of the night and black of the other, the gradually through lighter shades of blue until a smidgen of pink and purple appeared. As we then moved through a smear of orange above the horizon, we got to see glimpses of a reflected sun that was bouncing off a low cloud layer. With much hype of seeing the sun, after a long six months without, low and behold the weather packed it in, and the week of sunrise was a haze of snow-blown white clouds that were continuous with the white icy plateau, and obscured any chance of actually seeing the sun makes its first appearance.
The sky continued to lighten, but the glowing orb itself remained hidden for several days after the equinox. The one Thursday morning, we had glorious rays of light streaming in the windows, casting shadows of the many faces peering out at what had been relegated out of the familiar, into the seemingly distant past.
Sunrise marks the last of the three main winter celebrations, along with sunset, and midwinter. The galley was again decked out in its finest livery, this time in the theme of a Hawaiian luau, complete with inflatable palm tree, lei’s to adorn our necks, and bright summery colour table runners. A Hawaiian feast was prepared by our tireless galley crew, with entrees of smoked salmon, coconut shrimp and crab salad entrees, Kalua pork, coconut rice, sweet potato mash and Portuguese style doughnuts.
That sensation of nearing the end of a long slog through the winter, coupled with people being that much closer to seeing loved ones and getting some fresh fruit, had a general lift in mood around the place. The night was an awesome experience, yet pretty taxing in its own right. Nerves and tempers got frayed as the confinement of station life gradually wore away at people. The light whilst not reconciling all differences, at least allayed a lot of frustrations that had been evident.
The return of the sun also was the point of replacement of all of the station flags with the new years set. The 12 flags of the original signatories of the Antarctic Treaty that encircle the ceremonial pole had a fresh vintage hung, as well as a the Stars and Stripes being raised over the station observation deck. The USA flag at the geographic Pole is one of the few official US flags worldwide that hangs through the night, with the rest being lowered each night, and raised each morning. A new flag replaced the battered version that had seen the relentless damage of a years worth of Antarctic plateau wind, and the constant 24/24 light of the summer six months. I had the privilege of replacing New Zealand’s flag at the ceremonial Pole. And thanks to the wisdom of my countrymen, it was not John Key’s favourite tea-towel design, but instead the traditional ensign.