Cultivating Roses in the Frozen South

Planning a wedding in Antartica

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

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  • Bee

    What an amazing story! I love your creativity. I would love to hear more about your story- planning your wedding while in Antarctica, wow. I love to travel and to hear about others’ travels, and yours sound so romantic!

    • Another Kate

      Exactly…do you have a blog? I’d be so interested in reading it! What a neat post-best wishes to you.

  • Elissa

    I love this so much. So so much. What a wonderful way to bring Antarctica home with you. And I love the thought that warmth and shelter are the essential ingredients of a wedding (and a marriage, too, I think)

  • “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.”

    My thoughts aren’t particularly coherent this morning, but this bit just speaks to me. I love the DIY attitude where you’re doing it for yourself and don’t expect or even want your guests to be overawed by the details you’re working on but rather to celebrate with you.

  • Oh man. Beautifully written. Poignant, thoughtful and surprising, the way your home and habitat have found their way into your wedding details. But also- ANTARCTICA! Holy j. I want to hear so much more about your adventure!

  • Kelsey

    I think you’ve got the title for your memoirs as well!

  • Kristen

    Your life sounds like an adventure I’d like to have. Beautiful story!

  • carrie

    I love it! Amazing! Congratulations!

  • Class of 1980

    Very interesting!

  • Jashshea

    I know this is probably full of wisdom and other good stuff, but holy shit I can’t get past “YOU LIVE IN ANTARCTICA! ZOMG, COOL!”

    • Cleo

      this is what I thought too! and then I did a rimshot (in my head) because Antarctica. Cool. Get it?! Hah!

      I tell dad jokes.

    • meg

      I KNOW. Also: WHERE ARE MY PENGUIN PICTURES? I need an update with ze penguins.

      • I’m stuck on “Colorado wedding.” Amy, can I meet you for a drink? Because Antarctica: bad ass.

  • Manya

    I love this post so very much! It is sweet and beautiful, and I can feel the warmth and the joy in it (and see it in the little bits of your faces you are showing in the picture)! Thank you for this slice of Adventure Living: Antarctica Edition.

  • KM


  • Paranoid Libra

    APW the only wedding blog that can claim readers from all 7 continents!

    Also holy crap to the beauty of this post and the beauty I am sure your wedding and marriage will be. Talk about being able to weather storms.

  • Amazing! Your words are beautiful; anyone who doesn’t appreciate your flowers should read this post. I think a high five to Meg is also in order — how many blogs have readers on literally every continent?

  • How lovely! Congrats on your upcoming nuptials (wha-what Colorado!). That drawer full of flowers is simply delightful!

  • Kayjayoh

    This post brightened my morning.

  • Meghan

    Amazing story! Thank you so much for sharing. Congrats on your upcoming wedding – it will be wonderful, I’m sure!

  • Allison

    Going back to the details post from last week or the week before. This is one of those details where I’d want everyone to know the story behind it because it is SO. FREAKING.AWESOME. and so personal to your life as a couple.

  • As the others before me have said, this was a wonderfully warm post, and I think it would be a shame to NOT hear more from you!

    However, what stuck with me the most was this:

    “something I can happily contribute”

    What an utterly elegant and incredibly simple concept for gut-checking anything DIY, be it for a wedding or any other life event, or just life in general.

    Thank you for this!

  • scw

    I love this/the flowers, and echo the question of whether you have a personal blog.
    also, I am close friends with your cousin sara!

  • My allergies are acting up, you guys. For serious.

    • sara p

      Mine too ;)

  • Sam A

    Just plain friggin cool.

  • Sam A

    Just awesome. So very, very cool.

  • Ariana

    This is such an awesome story! I love that you’re planning a wedding that reflects you as a couple. Sock/tshirt/tent flowers sound amazing! I wish you guys the best of luck and hope you’ll share pictures after!

  • I know this is totally and utterly *not* the point, but that picture of the two of you? So. darn. cute. You look so happy and also so, so, so bundled up.

  • Your flowers are epically awesome, and I love that they all have meaning. I hope your wedding planning continues to go well. Best of luck for the rest of winter – the days will start getting lighter next week (thank goodness!) and then it will be only a couple of months until the planes start flying again – I loved seeing the huge USAF ones taking off from Christchurch airport bound for the snow when I worked there.

  • bootsoo

    Just yes. Yes.

  • Hannah

    I feel like this is one of the less openly sentimental posts on APW, but reading it, I found myself doing the weird laughing-and-crying-at-the-same-time thing that happens to me when I see something really beautiful. “And it is from these weathered shreds of shelter that I grew our wedding flowers, an Antarctic garden.” Just…so much beauty.

  • Heather

    My fiancé was in Antarctica at McMurdo Station this past season, she left one month after we got engaged, while I stayed in Colorado to keep the household & our furry family running! We did the bulk of the planning while she was gone, and despite the whole “different (and vastly remote) continent” challenge, we’ve successfully planned our wedding, strengthened our relationship and learned valuable lessons about ourselves as individuals, as a couple and about our life goals! Needless to say, I am super excited to see this post!! YAY ANTARCTICA!

    • Kayla Hatle

      Hey Amy and Mike,
      So this is Hatle here and Heather just sent me this post, she was SOOO excited!!! You guys are amazing and cant wait till you get back to Colorado! I hope your season is going great and that (Mike) you are still spoiling people with your great cooking! Miss It and you both
      Kayla Hatle

      • Amy

        Hatle!!!!!! Somehow I totally missed that this ran (winterbrain?)–but HELLOOOOOO!!!!! And hello to Heather, too—I hope you guys are doing AWESOME :)

  • hector v santos

    Que lindas tus flores,beatibul your flowers niña,the best they were made by your soft hands and a lot of love,amorrrrrrrrrrrrr,que dios te bendiga,GOD bless you,the weeding pizza party is going to be the BEST,all you need is love and papi HECTOR THERE

  • egf

    Way Too Cute.

    So… Do your guests get to take home the centerpiece? I think they should.