Musings, or finding the muse

It’s 2AM.  I am slumped in a comfy chair in the Sastrugi bar, and I realise I have it.

I have it.  It’s not a “Eureka!” moment, not an epiphany, but rather a gradually strengthening realisation, like the slow Antarctic dawn, increasing in radiance until the sun inevitably appears.  It is undeniable; I have it.

I sit in the chair, head back, a glass of red wine idle in my hand, staring into space.  Like so many others in a bar at 2AM, my expression is vacant and my eyes dull.  This, however, is not the blissful stupor of those who have over-imbibed upon the sweet fruits of Bacchus.  This is not the Absence of ethanol-induced Oblivion.  This is the the Thousand-Mile Stare.

Every adventurer, journeyman and voyager who contemplates wintering over on the white continent has heard of the Thousand-Mile Stare.  It is a famous attribute of those who have paid the price of solitude and earned the prize of seeing the beauty of Antarctica in all her vestments.  Every expedition brings the stories of conversations which span days although speech is few and far between; all tell of the odd habits of the bearded men and changed women who are to be found as the summer light spreads slowly towards the Pole.  One relief-team member describe how he arrived at a base to find each man’s room like a den, where he had retreated “…to make a nest in the wreckage of his personality.”  Every account speaks of men who stare into nothingness for minutes at a time, as if seeing a distant vision, but without any emotion.  The physiology, the psychology of being in this environment could occupy hundreds of pages of study; isolation, sensory deprivation; the soul’s immolation in the face of endless emptiness.  For a while though, I sit, not scientist, but philospher.

Some questions are easy to answer.  Why am I in the bar at 2AM?  Have I turned to alcohol?  Not at all; it has been Monday for two hours, and Monday is the day for cleaning the base.  I can’t sleep, and so I might as well do my duty.  It is my turn to clean the bar and games area.  Hence, I am in the bar.  The red wine?  Well, there was a half-empty bottle, and I’m reading Hemingway.  “I remember times of no money and times of no wine.  The times of no wine were the hardest.”  No-one can deny the genius of Hemingway.  Hence, I am drinking the red wine.  Why am I slumped in the chair?  Well, I’m listening to Mozart, and I am overcome by his 20th piano concerto.  Safe in the knowledge that the bar is distant from the nearest sleeping quarters, I’m not playing it pianissimo, and I’m not embarrassed that I am overcome.

I have been listening to more classical music than usual recently.  My music tastes are very broad, but classical and choral music have always been very close to my heart.  Here in Antarctica, every view seems to warrant an exceptional soundtrack.  Even the mundane sight of spindrift blowing past the base is breathtaking in the low sunlight of an autumn day.  Vistas of hundreds of kilometres can contain nothing but ice and air.  Men fall in love with the sea, but even the sea lacks the beauty of Antarctica.  If white is the colour of purity, it is only to prove the purity of this place.  Infinite complexity of form and the individuality of a million snowflakes are reduced to blazing white under a pure blue sky by summer and pitch blackness in winter… and then the uncountable tones of the shifting light begin to play across the endless ice.  Every tone of blue glows from glaciers; pinks, purples, oranges glaze each feature when the sun dips low; the aurora paints the sky with each hue of green in the depth of the winter night.  Only the most beautiful and epic music is worthy of this landscape.  The vista rips out my soul and belittles my humanity with every passing day.  I must feed my psyche to survive the beauty of the onslaught, hence I have been listening to more and more classical music.

It’s 2AM and I can’t sleep, and so I’m cleaning the Sastrugi bar to the sound of Mozart.  Safe in the knowledge that other ears are sufficiently distant, the volume is at a level which allows me to hear the violinist draw breath and the cellist move his fingers.  Menial labour is always good for philosophy, and music doubly so.  The last job – polishing the table – is complete.  I sit slumped in the comfy chair and stare into space. My mind expands over the ice.  It drifts over Lorentzenpiggen and admires the spire of it’s summit.  It takes in Knotten’s twin peaks, admires Robertskollen’s elegant wind-scoops and the bulk of Mount Schumacher.  It chuckles over the emotive Norwegian names.  It sinks into the glory of the tone of the piano, marvels at Mozart’s genius, feels the riptide of emotion as the orchestra reaches it’s climax.  My mind and soul are spread over hundreds of miles of empty, gut-wrenching, beautiful and deadly landscape…

…and somewhere within, I realise I have it.

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