Five months ago, I was standing in the bar chatting with an Old Salty, who is also a Dallas native. He has a few winters under his belt. We were standing off to the side, watching the summer folks soak up the last of their time on the ice. And the last of their booze.
I confided in him that I was nervous about the upcoming winter. This was my first season on the ice and I was headed straight into winter. Most people do a summer first, then move on to winter. I definitely got a few raised eyebrows when I told people my first season would be a full winter. I had a hard time understanding the preference for the long night over the twenty-four-hour daylight. Despite my propensity for living in the Pacific Northwest, I’m very much a pro-sun person. I looked at the long winter, the months-long night as an adventure, not as something to actually look forward to for its own sake. I’ve often claimed that my ideal climate is sunny, dry and cold. Perfect ice climbing weather. He told me about how much he preferred the night to the chaos and sunshine of the summer.
July 24, 2016: a group of about 12 of us, a healthy mix of newbies from the last flight who are trying to experience every bit of this place that they can, and winter-overs who have been sun starved for months, hiked out to Hut Point. Hut Point is just outside town and a popular escape given the relatively easy access. It faces the mountains and the horizon. And just over the horizon was light. Sunlight. Not actual sun, but most certainly sunlight. Just above the horizon were orange, red and pink hues. I think I even saw some blue. Farther left, I could see the mountains. I couldn’t climb them this summer; I couldn’t even get close. They taunted me. And I had a peaceful winter on account of being unable to see them.
I saw the sun and it was beautiful. The rest of the group kept hiking. I said “so long” and sat my happy ass in the snow and just stared at the horizon. My eyes would freeze shut periodically, but I wanted to see the light without the distortion of my goggles. So I’d pick the ice from my eyelashes and then reglove my rapidly freezing fingers (it was in the -40s range). I sat there for a good fifteen minutes. I had it all to myself. It was so quiet that I could hear the rest of the group talking, even though they were probably 400 yards away by that point. There was no wind. Just me and the sun.
I understand what Old Salty meant. The sun means the end of the winter, not the upcoming summer. The end started a few weeks ago with the flight. We rotated about 20% of the station. A fresh crop of new faces, new tanned faces, interspersed with our anemic white faces, started appearing here and there. There were new faces interrupting our routine. New faces that required….words. I couldn’t respond to a question with a grunt, “meh” or “dude” and have these new folks understand. My community was disrupted by these new faces. So far, some seem perfectly decent. There are even those who were here when I got here, left and have come back. They understand the routine. But they’re still new. As these new faces have invaded my community, so now has the sun invaded my home.
I get it now. And prefer the night.