Monday through Friday, 8-9 hours a day, in a tiny, cramped room with too small desks, I sat through lectures and presentations, some good, some terrible, for a year. The same group of students was there day in, day out. We had a routine. You knew who was going to be late, who was going to sit where, who was going to ask dumb questions or who was going to be hungover. It was the same 30 odd people every moment of every day. We were all going through PA school together. Friday nights and Saturdays were for blowing off steam, Sundays were back at the books. The same people from my class were the people I hit the town with and the same people I studied with on Sundays. We were insulated from the outside world. There was no change in personnel, the dramatis personae set in stone.
Then second year started. It was our clinic year that saw us move from the classroom to the clinic. Some stayed in the Seattle area, but many of us were dispersed throughout the region. I spent a month in SW Washington, a month in Montana. The routine was gone. Every month there were new faces and new routines. It was such a whirlwind that I didn’t really notice not seeing my friends all the time. Graduation happened and we all scattered. Two years of intense connections now headed off in every which way: from Houston, Texas to Asheville, North Carolina to Bellingham, South Canada.
I’ve only been on the ice for about 6 months now. During that time, the population has hovered around 150. Only those who do the Feb-Oct stretch can claim having done a full winter. But it’s the same faces every day. We work together. We recreate together. We are in such close proximity for so much of the day that absences are acutely felt.
“I feel like I haven’t see you in forever! Where you been?”
“Dude. I saw you at the bar day before yesterday.”
“…….Oh. Right… “
We inhabit this tiny space. In the winter, excluding the various work stations, there are really only a handful of places to find someone: the galley, the bar, a dorm room, the climbing gym or maybe the Kiwi base. The dark, cold and confinement have drastically sped up the pace at which people develop relationships. Against the backdrop of perpetual night, people become the landscape. I can recognize folks now by their gait, because they are usually bundled up and faces hidden against the wind.
It feels like PA school all over again.
Minus the “raging”.
Recently, we got a flight in. There were mail and freshies. Lots of mail. The mail that was meant to turn up in April finally arrived. In addition to mail and freshies we also got new people. But this flight wasn’t just dropping off, it took about 30 of our 150 people back to “civilization.”
New routines may be formed. Or we winter-overs may just scowl and growl at the newbies. Newbies who may very well have more time on ice than I do, but they don’t have more time this season. They don’t have more time spent during our season. So, we’ll adjust to the new routines and faces. And prepare for the upcoming sunrise. And steel ourselves to bid adieu to the winter.
Fair winds and following seas to my friends leaving our bubble of ice and dark. Try not to get a sunburn.