It’s hard for me to say anything more coherent than APW READERS IN ANTARTICA. However, Amy’s post is such a lovely reminder that the small things that really matter are in everyone’s reach. Or as Manya, who lives and works in developing countries, so eloquently said in the comments last week, “The single most important lesson that Africa teaches me over and over is that ease and joy are two separate issues.” Perhaps the same can be said of Antarctica. And our weddings.
by Amy Shields
When everything is said and done, my fiancé and I will have spent approximately eighty-five percent of our engagement in Antarctica.
I said “yes” on a fishing boat in the Florida Keys last June. We spent a few weeks soaking up sunshine back home in Colorado, and flew south together in August. We flew far south…to McMurdo Station, an American research facility on the Antarctic coast, two thousand miles below New Zealand. We’ll be here until October, just weeks before our early November wedding.
We met here, three years ago. Mike was the station’s Recreation Supervisor and I helped run the Beverage department. While he coordinated dodgeball tournaments and ice cave tours for the 1000 scientists, mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, helicopter pilots, and others that live here between August and February, I was making sure that no one ran out of whiskey. We’ve come back each year to work the busier summer season, and this time we’ve decided to stay on through the dark and far quieter southern winter. We are 2 of 139 souls that remain, and our jobs have shifted to serve our smaller community. Mike works in the galley. I oversee the Electrical Supply warehouse. When the winter winds blow (and they often do), I can sit at my desk and watch my warehouse walls bend in and out. It looks like they are breathing.
Perhaps planning a Colorado wedding from Antarctica sounds daunting, but I don’t consider it more difficult than planning a destination wedding from anywhere else. We have the internet. We have a phone. We have lots of friends back in the States that are willing to help if (and when) we need them. If anything, it’s been a great excuse to avoid making things too complicated. In that way, we have a pretty good thing going. The greater challenge (so far) hasn’t been logistics, but satisfying my own desire to meaningfully incorporate a bit of this weird wasteland, this funny “town” where we fell in love, into our stateside celebration.
The glaciers and icebergs are majestic. The auroras are “out of this world.” The penguins are as cute as you think they are. But none of these iconic images do much to evoke our day-to-day experiences as “ice people.” Antarctica is the coldest, driest, windiest place on earth…and yet somehow we’re still here. We accomplish our day’s goals despite the fact that Antarctica almost never makes it easy. And then (sometimes) we drink whiskey and play dodgeball. Each day we face the weather in insulated overalls and heavy boots, gloves and hats and warm dry socks. Luckily, cast-off clothing is common here, layers shed by those who have gone north, where it is warmer. And it is from these weathered shreds of shelter that I grew our wedding flowers, an Antarctic garden.
Over weeks and months, decommissioned mountain tents, ripped to shreds by winds and burnt crispy by the ever-present summer sun, developed into daisies. By my hand, countless work shirts were reborn as roses. It took a long time. In the northern hemisphere, spring is melting into summer. Bundled together and tucked away in drawers, our garden waits out the southern winter on an island where no plant life has grown for millennia, surrounded by a frozen sea. One day it will blossom at our pizza party wedding, in the mountains far away.
I like to make things. I have since I was very small. Handmade centerpieces (or any kind of flowers) are wholly unnecessary for a kick-ass wedding, but they’re something that I enjoy, something I can happily contribute. My fiancé is great at crafting playlists, at cracking jokes, and getting a party started. He worries about my flowers. He doesn’t think people will appreciate the time they took. I genuinely don’t care if they do. I don’t expect anyone will look at my scrappy blooms and see the hours I spent sewing, sometimes alone, often surrounded by friends. I’d rather they were focused on the events of the day. I hope I am, too.
I had fun with the process. I’m pleased with the results. I’m amused that our wedding flowers were all once shirts, or socks, or scarves. It doesn’t hurt that they were 100% free. And I can’t think of anything better to grace our wedding tables than something my harsh continent constantly reminds me—to be near hospitality’s raw core. Just as “real” flowers rely on sunlight, our flowers are made of warmth.
Photo of Amy and Mike by Jeremy Clark; photo of Amy’s flowers from her personal collection