Sniffles and tears.

In these conditions, when it is almost mid-winter on the ice, it’s hard to determine whether a sniffle and a tear carry the same meaning as it does at home. Eyes tear up and freeze. Sniffles are commonplace when outside for any length of time. It’s just part of life in Antarctica.

The last sunset has long passed. We live in the dark. The soft yellow glow coming from a street light and two bright white headlights aimed at us from the front of the fire engine illuminate the gathering. Thankfully, the wind is mild. There is a steady breeze, just enough to deposit snow into the nooks and crannies of my jacket. I’m slowly losing feeling in my toes. They are in the painful, not quite fully numb yet stage. Many of those around me are cold as well. But everyone remains motionless.

A detail from the fire department lowers the flag halfway while our resident trumpeter plays Taps. I know the head of the fire detail, she is a veteran. We all stand outside, the discomfort somehow seems appropriate. The New Zealanders have come over the hill to join us.

Today, we remember those who died for our country from a place with no recognized national borders. We stand in front of the last flag on station, the others having been taken down in preparation for winter. It’s a potent moment when the station head reads the numbers of dead from various wars and conflicts. Standing next to me, old salty Marine wipes a tear away. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t from the cold.

Happy Memorial Day.

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