“These might be the golden years for Antarctica.”
The “golden years” – that is, the time in one’s existence in which we turn the final corner and head down the home stretch. The picture of the sky was fantastic; but the reality of what made the colors so vivid left one with a sense of the tragic. The depletion of the ozone in earth’s atmosphere, especially over the poles – it makes for beautiful colors, but it does not bode well for the planet.
There are not many people who ‘winter-over’ in the Antarctic. Once the decision is made to stay on through the long, dark season there is no changing your mind. For those who have work to do and who will spend all of their waking hours with a small group of people, you learn to get along. In fact, according the acclaimed documentary Antartica – A Year On Ice – the thirty or so existing experiments that take place on the continent, each funded by their home country, puts a microcosm of the peoples of the world into a fishbowl. It’s not so much that folks on the outside are looking in as it is the fact that those on the inside can’t swim far without bumping into their neighbor. One of the winter-over residents wondered about the state of human relations in a similar light to the possibility of limited time for the continent. Reflecting on the hard work of getting along, she mused: “I don’t know that we’ll always be able to play as nice as we can right now.”
The break in the “cold war” seems to be drawing to a close. While Russia’s economy is weak and their power is diminished, we and they are rattling sabers and all the while China is gearing up for confrontation, claiming water and property rights which are increasingly disputed by their neighbors. “Playing nice” in the Antarctic is about the simple fact that the environment itself is so hostile that humans who winter-over can not afford to be hostile to each other. But how long can this Glasnost last? And why is it that we need some sort of natural disaster or self-imposed hardship to inspire us to actually do the work of sharing and getting along?
Wouldn’t it be ironic if both our ecology and our economies – that is, how we treat the dirt we walk on and how we treat the neighbors we share the dirt with – were on parallel tracks of deterioration. It’s not that things have to be this way; it’s just the way things are given how we live our lives.
There is a scene in the documentary in which a seal has lost its way and is stranded on the ice. The central rule of engagement for the inhabitants of the Antarctic is noninterference. The narrator speaks of how difficult it is, how emotionally draining, to watch an animal in distress and not be able to do anything about it. What irony! There is so much we CAN do. If it takes a year living on the ice to drum this into our heads and our hearts, so be it.
On Wednesday, 21 year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced for his part in the tragedy and violence of the bombing at the Boston Marathon. A week ago 21 year-0ld Dylann Roof walked into a church and killed nine people. These are ice-cold acts of terrorism, one of which is laced with blatant racism. I pray God these are not our species’ “golden years”. How disheartening to think that this is how we will come to our end.