At the gift shop in Resolute Bay, Nunavit, you can buy a shirt that says “Resolute Bay is not the end of the world, but you can see it from here.” Not many people live in Resolute — 215, as of the 2001 Census. The second northernmost settlement in Canada (Grise Fiord is the northernmost), it is the debarkation point for scientific expeditions to the North Pole. The average yearly temperature is -16.4 F. , although right now it’s quite balmy, with temperatures in the low 40s. Resolute is a cold and isolated place.
It is civilization itself compared to Devon Island. Devon Island has no settlements on it. It is as uninhabited as…. Mars. Which is only one of the reasons that “Mars on Earth” — the Haughton-Mars Project — is located there. The more important ones have to do with the geological and biological attributes of the huge impact crater that’s more or less in the center of the island. Every year, scientists gather to study the crater and to use it to test equipment that hopefully one day will in some future iteration go to Mars.
My husband is up there now. This is his ninth consecutive year with HMP. He’s currently testing automated drills.
I’ve gotten used to it, now. Sort of. I no longer check the weather reports obsessively, I no longer check and recheck the project webcams to see if they’ve updated. (Especially since they haven’t been updated since the end of last field season.) I don’t let myself think the words “hypothermia” or “polar bears” or “ATV rollover” more than once every, oh, few hours.
Because when you love someone, you take them for who they are. In my case, that means saying “When do you need to leave?” a great deal. There is field work — Devon and rural Spain — and there are conferences — Japan and Valencia — and then there are just plain business trips — D.C. and Houston. During a particularly brutal spell last fall, he was away 68 days between July 1st and October 31st –including a six-week stint in Rio Tinto, Spain. That doesn’t include the traveling he did the rest of the year. Most years are not nearly so bad; he usually is away about a total of about 80 – 90 days a year.
He does what he does because it matters to him. He wants to do work that will advance exploration science, that may someday lead to his grandchildren standing on Mars. I applaud that far-sightedness: I appreciate the fact that he is not driven solely by thoughts of commercial gain. (If he was motivated by money, he sure wouldn’t be working for NASA. Private sector jobs for people of his qualifications pay much better.)
And my part in this is support, and making sure the kids are alright. I don’t say “Do you have to go to Devon?” I don’t say “But don’t you think six weeks is a long time to be away from home?” I will confess, however, that I sometimes say “Are you sure they really need you at XYZ boring business meeting at NASA Headquarters?”
Because he’s a scientist, an explorer. I can tether him, if I absolutely had too — but why? It’s just who he is. I have other friends who face the same issue, with far more stress than I. One friend has a husband who is a camerman who has done time in Iraq and who spends summer filming wildfires. Compared to that, worrying about a little bout of hypothermia is nothing.
It just goes with the territory of loving people whose first love is something larger than just another person. I’ve never been unclear on that. And to insist he stay home, cease to travel, explore, and pursue his goals would be to insist he change who he is. I love him, I don’t want him to let go of something that is so clearly a part of his psyche. So I offer encouragement and hold down the fort. I do this as cheerfully and with as much grace as I can muster.
But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.