To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star
from Man of La Mancha (1972)
When we were kids, we dreamed of the beyond. Discoveries and travels, exploits and explorations. The world was infinite, with countless roads open towards everywhere. Then the world shrunk and we are settled in our lives that, however rich and fulfilling, are by default finite. We watch the beyond on TV, expand our experience with movies, photos, tales of unfathomable depths, dizzying heights and heroic deeds. There are people who watch, there are people who wistfully dream, there are people who leisurely contemplate, hardly believing someone out there is really doing all this.
And there are people who do.
They reach their unreachable star because it’s their job. They chose it and they find it in themselves to pursue it.
The 'North Pole-2015' icy laboratory was located at 89° 35’557’’ north latitude, 61°20’020’’ west longitude. If these figures don’t speak much, the name of the drifting station does. It is the very North Pole of Nansen and Johansen , Amundsen and Peary. 'North Pole-2015' is a direct heir to the world's first North Pole ice station, established as far back as 1937, also by Russian scientists. Many things have changed, but whatever the times, courage and dedication are always the same. There have always (except one brief interval after the collapse of the Soviet Union) been stations ever since, their work interrupted by evacuations when the ice starts to break up.
'North Pole-2015' was evacuated in August 2015, because of the thawed holes and cracks. The scientists who worked there say they kept falling into these. It’s that kind of work. Any time the whole settlement or any its part might disappear into a crack. Any time an icy wave might come and bury the station, as had happened in 2004; fortunately, the scientists working on ‘North Pole-32’ had all been rescued. Can we really imagine what it is like? What courage and dedication it takes? Merely surviving there would have been a great deal, but these oceanologists, glaciologists, meteorologists, marine biologists, other scientists and technicians come there to work. What kind of people are they whose life is to run where the brave does not go?
One of those people is the chief meteorologist of the station, Vladimir Vlasov. He even looks like a Don Quixote. Here he is. It is the only photo on this blog that was not taken by him:
He’s been doing polar expeditions since 1986. Always in the parts of the Arctic that are the hardest to reach. He has been through it all, from Morse code as the only way of communication, or living in wood panel houses at abandoned stations which he helped to revive, to modern settlements equipped with everything the 21st century can offer.
He has seen giant icebergs, which could crush floating oil derricks. Met white bears, true owners of the region, who fearlessly come to stations and steal or scavenge food. Found remnants of extinct animals: mammoths, wooly rhinoceros, musk ox. Above all, he has worked, steadfastly observing and experimenting. And, incredibly, he has found time and energy to take photographs.
Everything is in these photos. The icy beauty of the gorgeous but ruthlessly alien nature, its infinite disdain for everything human. The courage of man challenging this impassive aloofness. The blinding light and the overwhelming darkness. Spirit and warmth against the barren splendor. Audacity and determination persevering in the realm of everlasting indifference. The immensity of heights and the boundless expanse of water or ice versus the apparent minuteness of the machines and buildings, which, set off by all the lifeless grandeur, suddenly feel alive and warm. People, who haven’t come here to spell “eternity” with pieces of ice, but to give it meaning. All that and more, a great gift from Vladimir’s talent to all of us, who’ll never be there.
He says he’s gotten so used to living in the Arctic that continental life gets hard. “You start thinking: time to go back”, he says. Now he is back there again. This story is not over. There will be new photos and new stories from the Arctic knight. This is what a Don Quixote does: he shows mankind that it matters. That everything may not be in vain.