A Rose, Frozen in Time
The Story of Michelle and Brandon
By Michelle Tweed
houlder to shoulder and knee to knee with my fellow passengers, I try again to find a comfortable position. I stagger my feet with the woman across from me to stretch a bit. Easier said than done with me in my Pac Boots and her in her bunny boots. At least my red parka adds some cushion to the netted cargo seat. Our group of about one hundred makes do the best we can to pass the time on the five-hour flight to Antarctica. Some read, some listen to music, some sleep.
Most all of us will have different jobs once we arrive—everything a little town of one thousand will need. We’ll have plumbers and welders, recreation staff and hairdressers. Our jobs exist to support the scientists who will also be on station.
“We almost always end up on the same flight, don’t we?” the owner of the bunny boots says to me, leaning forward to take a sip from her water bottle.
Her name is Sarah, and she has made this trip many more times than I have. Her long, silver-blonde hair flows over her blue, fleece jacket as she leans back into her seat.
“Yes! This is my seventh trip down, and I think you’ve been on at least four of my flights.”
I smile back at her then reach under the seat for my water bottle. I also pull out the brand-new journal I’ve brought along. This will be my longest contract ever. Instead of my normal five months, I will be staying a full year, and I want to write about it. Taking a sip of water, I settle back into my seat. I try to find the words to describe how I feel as I stare down at the blank page.
October 2, 2001
I’m filled with so many emotions today. Just three weeks ago I watched the attacks on the World Trade Center from a TV in the waiting room of the Emergency Department. It was my last day of work there, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Fear, uncertainty, and sadness have filled these last few weeks, and I wondered how it might affect my trip. Could I leave my family and friends behind? Would one of my flights end in the same fate?
Now, here I sit on the last of six flights after leaving my home in Minnesota a week ago. I’m hopeful for the year ahead. Sad for saying goodbye to family and friends back home. Excited to see friends who will be returning to the ice. And a little nervous for the year ahead. I wonder how much of a toll the winter months will take on me mentally.
Even with all of this weighing on me, I have a feeling deep within that I’ve never had before. I don’t know what to call it. An awakening, an awareness, a realization…. I’m not sure. But I have a new joy. I feel God is working in me and I hope and pray that I will be brave enough to listen to His plan and follow it. Maybe it’s something very simple, I don’t know, but whatever it is, it is strong and deep within me.
I’m going to take this year to work on me. And even though I’ve been single for a while, I don’t plan on dating anyone. This is a year of growth. No distractions. Besides, I don’t have to worry about passing up “Mr. Right.” I’ve said for years the man I’m going to marry will give me my first red rose. My friends and I have joked about this for so long, that I’ve actually started to believe it, and hope it will come true. And since there are no roses in Antarctica, I won’t have to worry about that.
Laughing a little to myself, I continue to write and stay lost in my thoughts, wondering what this year of growth will bring, and what this new feeling means. I can’t help but feel my life will soon be changing direction.
The plane hits turbulence, and I am jolted back to reality. An Air National Guard crewman announces over the loudspeaker that we have begun our descent and to prepare for landing. Everyone around me begins to put their cold weather gear back on.
There are no windows near me, so I have no idea how low or how close we are. It’s a guessing game as to when we will touch down. After roughly half an hour of anticipation, the wheels hit the ice and the powerful rush of the airplane throws us all a little sideways in our seats. The plane comes to a stop, and the door is opened. A blast of cold, dry air rushes through and burns my nostrils. Blinding light floods in from the nearby door, and we all stand and start to shuffle in that direction. Squinting, I grab my sunglasses from the top pocket of my parka. All I can see is white snow and blue ice.
Walking down the stairs, leading from the plane to the sea ice, I pass a man wearing brown bibs, a brown jacket, and a knit purple hat. He points to a line of passenger vehicles and yells over the engine noise to keep moving and not to stop for pictures.
I hear him repeat this several times until his voice drowns out in the distance. A thin layer of snow squeaks like Styrofoam under my boots, while a slight breeze stings my face and fills my nose with the scent of diesel exhaust.
In the near distance, just beyond the row of busses, there’s a line of about fifteen little square huts on skis. A few red trucks and yellow forklifts are dotted in-between.
I make my way toward the large red bus waiting first in line. Its wheels are as tall as me, and the words on the side read, “Ivan the Terra Bus.”
I climb the stairs into the large bus, and the driver greets me.
“Michelle, you’re back,” she says, smiling wide.
“Hi, Gloria!” I stop to give her a quick hug.
Her tiny frame, dressed in jeans and a fleece jacket, looks even smaller sitting behind the giant steering wheel.
“Yep, I’m back, and for a full year this time,” I tell her. “I’m a glutton for punishment!”
“Well, I’d say,” she says, smiling.
Laughing, I sling my orange bag behind me then squeeze my way down the aisle and into a seat. I take the first empty spot and slide over to the window. Soon the bus is full, and we start the slow journey across the ice toward town. These busses are definitely not built for speed.
The view from my window is of a vast mountain range. It stretches out across the flat expanse of ice, and it is breathtaking. White snow covers the black peaks, with bowl-shaped valleys in between. It reminds me of an enormous ice cream sundae, with marshmallow cream flowing over the edges and through the cracks of the chocolaty mountains. I have been coming here since I was nineteen, and this place still amazes me with its beauty.
Our destination sits opposite the mountains, on a little island formed by the still active volcano, Mt Erebus. From here, the completely snow-covered volcano looms like a giant over the town with its white plume rising and marching across the clear blue sky.
As we approach, I notice a new sign has been put up. It reads, “The National Science Foundation welcomes you to McMurdo Station, Antarctica.”
I sigh to myself, “Home sweet home.”
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