Absolute Elsewhere

Amid the crazy bouncing of the cheek-to-jowl-to-banging your head on the roof as we careen our way back to town in the back of the Delta, I put my head down, close my eyes, and think about elsewhere.

Physicists like to describe our space-time as existing on the surface of a bubble; no matter where you go, you’re moving along the surface. The multiverse theory, as I understand it, is that as gravity warps and pulls the surface of the bubble, bits of it can pop off at singularities, splitting and forming new bubbles, floating along in the same general math. But those new bubbles are their own universes, independent and existing at the same time as ours, but utterly, inconceivably inaccessible to our own. No form of matter, energy or information can pass between them; and it’s even an undefined question to ask “where” they are in relation to us. They are not only elsewhere, they are, in purely technical terms, “absolutely elsewhere.”

Bouncing along in the back of the Delta, I think back to Pole. 24 hours ago, I passed through the Herc-shaped singularity and found myself in this strange new world of dirt, birds, cream-thick air and pools of water. It was overwhelming, yes, but my world had not changed – it was simply elsewhere.

In my world, Ben and Daniel are at their desks, just off to my right, discussing with unbearably wry humor the latest NSF/USAP/IT/polar calamity ([Banging sounds from upstairs.] Daniel: “Weren’t they done with all the hammering last year?” Ben: “Apparently someone decided they need to nail some more Science to the roof.” – only at Pole is “Science” a mass noun).

Lutri and Rachael
Michelle, contemplating
even more cold

In my world, Katie is rushing down the hall to Linda’s clutching a stack of redeployment forms, the staving off the look of panic at the fact that, once again, nobody’s filled them out correctly. In my world, at this very moment, Michelle leans back in her chair in the galley – halfway down the third table from the end – and looks up at the weather on the scroll. @&$*!, it’s below -30F, the wind’s picking up, and she has to haul nitrogen cylinders in from the berms for MAPO this afternoon. It’s going to be a miserable lack of fun, but at least there was mac & cheese for lunch. Lutri is smiling as Martin passes the dishpit, asking him earnestly how his day was. He’s smiling in that aw-shucks way he does, saying that he really doesn’t have anything to complain about today, as long as the weather holds.


Behind the counter, Christina – dear, sweet, joyful Christina – is hanging up her apron with thoughts of email. If, of course, the satellites are really up. Ben and Daniel are watching the SatStat countdown, waiting for the heart-monitor pings that signal a live connection (“Oh yes, here it comes: the big Bite ‘O Fail internet connectivity sandwich…”). Just over the cube wall, Mike is leaning back in Cap’n Don’s seat, offering a half-finished bag of Vanilla Oreos to Tree, who’s perched delicately on the desk, as though it were a child’s, trying not to break it. Megan’s headed down the DZ stairs, fishing through her Carhartts for the googley-eye glacier goggles before going out for an afternoon of, as she puts it, “playing tractors”. And Sarah’s wondering if that damned cryostat is ever going to get cold.

Megan and an anonymous D7

This world – my world – is now absolute elsewhere to me. But there in the back of the Delta, if I close my eyes and shut out this new one, I can still see it. I see it in the faded colors that appear when you look away after staring too long on a bright summer day. I see it, almost in my hands, a tiny snow globe that I want to peer into, to shake gently, to see the snow swirl watch it happen again, just one more time.

Clem and Sarah at MAPO

Some time this evening, they’ll drop the ramp and lead us off the C-17 – a massive, cavernous warehouse of a plane – into New Zealand. I understand that Beth likes calling the C-17 “the magic tube”. You climb into it, wait a while, and when you come out, you’re somewhere else. McMurdo will be far behind, and we’ll stumble out into the inconceivably warm darkness of a Christchurch night. Night. For three months, the sun’s tirelessly pinwheeled around the sky, never dipping even slightly for the horizon. Night. And cars and trees and grass and people just walking around. I understand that if you go to the botanical gardens on any autumn afternoon, it’s easy to tell the returning Polies – they’re rolling around in the grass, pausing to look up at the sky, giggling a bit and doing it all over again.

I don’t know how I’m going to react – I expect I’ll surprise myself.

Speaking of surprises, I’m probably going to sign off from the blog here for a while. I feel I’ve been pouring myself out a bit for close to four months. I had to – I would have exploded if I’d tried to keep this adventure to myself. By writing, I felt like I was able to take so many of you along with me, to let you share in the amazement, and to give me company and comfort when I stumbled. I’m soooo grateful to you all for your email notes and chats.

But now I need to recover a bit, I think. Build back up who I am, or who I think I’ve discovered I am. Not surprisingly, I learned a lot about myself down here on the ice. Surprised some other folks, too. Last couple of days, I heard that – at the beginning – some folks were making bets on how long I’d last. This Google guy coming down here on a lark. I was wondering that too – I knew I was testing myself, tempering myself against that nagging uncertainty. The only way I know how to beat what Olivia calls the “Imposter Syndrome” is to constantly test myself.. Can I really I hack it?

I dunno. I’d like to think I did okay. The friend – yes, now my friend – who told me about the wager also told me that – at the beginning, he’d taken the short end of the bet on how long I’d last. He shook his head and smiled: “Man, I just didn’t think you’d have it in you.” I resisted asking how much his bet had cost him, but he looked happy to be proven wrong. And I told him I’d buy him a drink in town to make up for his loss.

Okay, so I guess that’s it. There will undoubtedly be crazy sensory dis/re-orientation when I get to CHCH, but I’m going to let that go. I’ve got close to a week to get acclimated to normal before I hop off to Sydney for a couple of days of touristy-foo. Then back to CHCH to meet Devon and the kids for a week of South Island exploration followed by the looong flight back home. Where I’ll see if I still have a desk and a job waiting for me. That’s going to be another adventure, I guess.

[Note: Arrived uneventfully in CHCH ~9:00p.m. local, enveloped in a warm dark rain. A lovely, comforting way to arrive. Thought customs, CDC and gear return by 10:15, and to the Windsor B&B by 11:00.

I still need to post a bunch of pictures, and the SPIFF videos, but that’s gonna wait a bit. G’night, all!]

Climbing on board the Magic Tube
Cavernous inside

Warm and dark when we climb back out

Goodbye Big Red – I’ll never forget you!

2 responses to “Absolute Elsewhere

  1. It has been really wonderful following you along on your journey, Pablo! I'm pretty sure I'll never go there myself, so reading the words of someone I know who is there, practically in real time, was the next best thing. I'd love to get together for lunch when you come back to Google to hear more after you've processed your return to civilization a bit.


  2. I've enjoyed the virtual adventure so much, and I'm sad to leave too. I was betting all along you'd make it. I thought of you yesterday, remembering you were to leave soon. In the middle of dishes just now, the radio told about the earthquake and I ran in to the office to check in. So glad you're OK. Maybe the best way to return to a freaky default world is to return to that world turned upside down.


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