#AntarcticAlphabet: H is for home

Home is where the heart is, where we hope and plan, even dream. Not-home, elsewhere, is transition, a coming or a going, a place whose future is not our business.

Almost every building we’ve seen since Puerto Williams has been ugly, bases and settlements of corrugated metal, old machinery and rutted pathways. Grytviken has its lovely church and the manager’s house, incongruous beside the rusting whaling factory: Larsen made it home and he cared enough to make it pleasant. Yet Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, Tristan’s lonely settlement, is unlovely despite the passionate home-longingness of its people, their hiraeth when evacuated. Home is home, loved even if unlovely. Transience is no excuse for Antarctic-base ugliness.

Home is said to be local, the neighbourhood where we belong, specific people and rituals, pastimes and routines. It is bounded: a day’s walk, the tunnel of our commute, the shops down the road, the lark on the field where the dog defecates. Beyond the bounds, in not-home, are strangers at best, maybe enemies, threats to that sacred hearth. Danger (despite the evidence of who assaults whom) is outside, in that unfamiliar, changing arena, with its smells and shoves and small indignities.

The hills of the Cape are an indistinct blur on the horizon beyond Europa’s bowsprit. I, too, passionately look forward to going home.

And yet, and yet, in the face of these concrete objects of desire, we know that people fight for the incantations of childhood and fantasies of the afterlife. Life eternal inspires home-defence more lethal and sustained than any rumours of mass extinction, the statistics of the long slide of habitat destruction. Nobody (yet) calls their own home a habitat.

What, then, for a place no-one calls home? For Antarctica, home of transience in its slow-changing grandeur, the deep-freeze in the backyard? The penguins and seals matter as much as the wolves of Yellowstone  or the pavements of our neighbourhood. I am reminded of Douglas Adams, Eric Idle, Stephen Hawking. We live on a small planet on the outer arm of an undistinguished galaxy. In the solar-system neighbourhood, home is the blue marble and it’s the only one we have.


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