• Sarah Bouckoms

Where you'll find me

I have something to tell you...

It’s been awhile since I’ve written. There has been so much going on in the world with COVID, Black Lives Matter and now the war in Ukraine. It didn’t seem like anyone would want to read about the adventures of a penguin. Who would need to see pictures of mountaintops? There were so many important messages to get out there, how could one waste airspace with silliness. I don’t know that what I have to say has changed or the world is in a better space now, and ready to hear about the antics of a penguin on an adventure. In fact I’m sure things are not different. The only thing that has changed is that I can no longer be quiet. It’s just that my biggest, wildest, most impossible dream I ever dreamed came true. While I don’t feel like I need to say this to prove anything or that I made these choices for anyone but myself, I also know that one of my favourite things in life is to inspire students. Here I am with this amazing opportunity to do so and it would be a disservice not to.

So the next thing I should tell you is where I am writing from. The South Pole. In April 2022. That means I’m here for the winter. I’m wintering over at the South Pole. Did you get that? I’m at the bottom of the world. The coldest, darkest, most isolated place on this planet. The closest people are off this planet on the ISS. No planes will come or go from February through October. I mean none. We need to have everything already here, in order to survive. Nothing lives here. Frankly, we are not meant to either. Everything is constantly trying to kill us as soon as we step outside from our heated building, which is the only reason we can exist here. This is where I live.

How did I end up here? It all happened so fast, which is ironic because I’ve been waiting 13 years to get here. After I finished my masters with the IceCube Neutrino detector I applied to winter over in Antarctica.

Alas, I was rejected, and later found out the reason given was my overactive enthusiasm.

There is something to be said for not giving up, but there is also something to be said for learning to bark up another tree. I could learn more coding, but I could never curb my passion for Antarctica. So I turned to teaching, which is where I met most of you.

Then I left you, and I left teaching. I wanted to come back here. So I found some work on the cruise ships running citizen science programmes and the medical emergency response team. I was spending my days marveling at glaciers, icebergs and the antics of penguins. It wasn’t where I exactly wanted to land but I thought it was going to have to be my good enough. Then COVID hit and that world became very unstable. So I chucked some spaghetti at USAP. Some months later, I received a call asking if I wanted to bump my alternate to a primary position and head to the ice in 2 weeks. Well, yes sir, yes I did want all my dreams to come true.

I was working to support science in Antarctica as the Safety Technician. My days were packed with fall protection training, respirator fit testing, helping work centres fill out Job Hazard Assessments, risk assessments for field parties, air quality in confined spaces, monitoring different projects happening on station and somewhere in there, being present as I called Ross Island home. I was also quick to join the running club after work, find the climbing gym and some badass ladies to go with it. My one day off a week was crammed with bike rides, skis, hikes, sea ice watching and eating brunch like there was never going to be another meal. One of my favourite things was to guide people through the historic huts concerved by Antarctic Heritage Trust. It’s hard to quite communicate what the summer meant to me. I think I’m still processing it, but I’m also still living it. An opportunity was presented to sign on for another contract, which was not the alternate to winter at McMurdo Station that I had queued up. It was a primary for the South Pole. USAP was asking me if I wanted to winter at the South Pole.

So that is how I came to be writing to you from the South Pole where I continue to support science as the Safety Technician. Much of the work is the same but much is different. Winter has a different vibe than summer, much more steady state than full on active mode. The science here is primarly Astrophysics, including IceCube. I get to visit the IceCube lab for work. Like I said, my most impossible dreams come true. I’ve also been learning about the othe science projects here gathering data on climate change and the auroras. So far, I’m about half way through my 12 months here and eagerly anticipate the events to come. The full on darkness without the sun still hanging out well below the horizon. The night sky like no where else in the world. Mid winter dinner. The sun returning. It will be an evolution of emotions and experiences like no other.

To my old students still reading this, that’s what is new with me. How are you? Are you 21 yet? Did you finish uni? Have you got a job? Did you take the gap year I told you to? Are you traveling the world living out of a backpack? I would love to hear from you. The lack of writing or reaching out is not a reflection of how often I think of you sending good vibes only out in the universe. Wherever you are, there is someone at the bottom of the world hoping your biggest, wildest, craziest, most impossible dreams come true too.