After the discovery that we were not suffering from some inner ailment (previous post), several of us “family guys” had logged time for phone calls home to New Zealand. I think I was the first up with my call to Lois and our daughters and I spent my three minutes in the phone booth in tears listening to all they had to tell about Christmas and me being so far away. With such a wet face I had to wait a few minutes before leaving the booth only to find the room full of fellows awaiting their turn. As soon as I emerged Chippy spotted my tear soaked face and boomed to the crowd : “Look at him, look at him look at his eyes….ha, ha, ha! ” Lots of laughter and lots of ribald comments too. In reality my months in Antarctica were the first time I had ever lived solely in the company of men for any extended period. Levity, in such closed quarters, is often found in basic terms! There was not much I could say so I just went and looked out the window hoping for some level of composure. Robin, our expedition leader, came over and ruffled his hand through my hair and said the tears must have something to do having three daughters. He had four sons.
Around 3.30pm we sat down to a most sumptuous of feasts and gorged ourselves on food and wine. But we did remember the 24 people (18 New Zealanders, four Italians and two Japanese) we had working in the field camps in remote parts of the McMurdo Sound area. Their Christmas Day was brightened simply with a bottle of New Zealand wine and then it was back to work. Field groups working in the Wright Valley converged on the Lake Vanda station and supplemented the usual field rations with a couple of chickens, a Christmas cake and a goody box of nuts, biscuits, potato chips and sweets sent out from Scott Base. The loneliest Christmas was spent by two guys ferrying fuel on the Wilson Piedmont glacier but they also got to enjoy a similar addition to their field rations cooked over a spirit stove. We also had university research groups working at Cape Bird, further north on Ross Island and another group working in the Boomerang Range area way, way west of Scott Base towards the polar plateau. They celebrated Christmas as best they could and kept right on working.
Two Italians, guests of New Zealand, were working well away from any point of Antarctic civilisation up in the far reaches of the Wright Valley. They celebrated Christmas in their way with a bottle of good Italian vino.
For me, this most unusual of Christmas celebrations was part of a spiritual awakening deep inside. Following a life/death experience on the Wilson Piedmont Glacier a few weeks earlier I had come to realize that there was something more to my life that I could not get a hold of. The all-male chorus of a Silent Night, of shepherds, a Virgin birth and a baby in a manger stayed with me for the next seven years when the whole spiritual battle came to a head and I answered the call from God to end my erratic and irresponsible behaviour and find peace and new life in the Jesus Christ of the Christmas story.
(To be continued)