It was dark tonight. I went out on deck to properly appreciate it. It has been dark for a short time each night over the last couple of nights, but tonight was the first time in over a month that I have properly experienced darkness. It still wasn’t that dark – because a full moon had risen and was gloriously reflected in the sea below, creating a silvery trail for us to follow all the way to Hobart. It was mesmerising to stand on the bridge and just watch us head into the glittering light.
Having a month of constant daylight has been an interesting experience. In some ways it was almost mundane – it just didn’t ever get dark. You got used to it. But more profoundly it seriously messed with my sense of time. What did time matter if it was always light? What did it matter when you went to bed and when you got up? Particularly on those days of limbo stuck in the ice, and not much to do since then on the Aurora when one day has just rolled into another anyway. Even now as we are changing time zones as we head east to Hobart it all seems a bit artificial. I’m writing this sitting up in bed. It’s now 12.30am today’s time, which would have only been 11.30pm on Thursday, two days ago; will be 1.30am tomorrow, and 2.30 am Eastern daylight saving time – the time we need to adjust to as we arrive in 4 days time.
The time touchstones on the ship are mealtimes – breakfast from 7.30 to 8.30, lunch 11.30 – 12.30 and dinner 5.30 – 6.30. The fact that lunch and dinner are very early doesn’t help things either for time keeping making much sense or being much use. And tomorrow morning I know I won’t make it up for breakfast, but that hardly seems to matter when lunch at 11.30 was only 9.30 two days ago. I think I can wait till then!!
My sense of direction and space also got seriously messed with during our month of daylight. I’m pretty well oriented in my usual life. I always know where north is ( in the southern hemisphere at least – I do get confused when I visit north of the equator), and am at home, at ease, comforted by the arc of the sun’s movement across the northern sky from east to west. But here it wasn’t so easy. The sun rising just east of due south, arcing up to north during the day then setting just west of due south just made me confused as to what’s what, what’s where. Anything could be anywhere and I could believe it. Even explaining the passage of the sun like that makes a reader think that the sun rising and setting were distinct experiences in different parts of the sky at different times, but that is totally the wrong impression. The experience was watching the sun dip below the horizon for a short period of time and then rise a short while later in close to the same place; all the while it staying light.
Unrelated to the movement of the sun is how difficult it is with vast horizons all around, now over sea, for so much of the time I have been away over ice, to judge how far something is away. Stationary just offshore Casey we could see the snowy slopes of the Law Dome rise up seemingly just behind Casey, but it was impossible to say how far away anything was. And over the last few days, as I have looked out over a vast expanse of open sea, it's impossible to say how far away the horizon is - an immense distance is the closest estimation I can make!
It really did feel, still does feel, at 55 degrees south that time and space have been merging and flowing – and my appreciation and ordering of them have been revealed as constructs, rather than physical immutable realities.. And that is still something I am getting my head around!