Status Report

Keith Cowing’s Devon Island Journal – 2 Sep 2002: Home +30

By SpaceRef Editor
September 2, 2002
Filed under , ,

I have been home for as long as I was away.

Several days after I got home I settled back into many of my old routines. Yet some things had clearly changed. Since I got back I have not been able to spend much time outside, except for early morning walks with my wife or late at night due to the heat wave we’ve had.

For the first several days the heat just drained me – often within minutes. My feet hurt too – unless I wore the heavy boots I had worn on the island. I had noticed this as soon as I had arrived in Resolute. It took several days of walking around barefoot to get over this.

It has been quite a labor to get my notes and recollections organized into these journals in a fashion that bears some resemblance to what I experienced on Devon Island. At least an hour or two every day (some times more) I’d pour through the 2,500 photos I took. The time/date signature helped me to piece together things in the right sequence.

Again, as I have mentioned repeatedly, the lack of normal day/night lighting allowed me to adopt a different way of mapping time up there – one that was almost continuous. I look back at it now I and I still get that time dilation effect: I was up there for an eternity – yet I was also up there for a very short time. Odd.

In addition to obvious cues such as photos and conversations with folks who were up there, other things transport me back. One is a TV ad that is airing for the new Hummer 2. It was shot on an arctic location very similar to Devon Island. Indeed, at the end, when the camera zooms up out into space, an island can be seen below.

The first time I saw this ad I was convinced that it was Devon Island. Then I recalled that there were roads in the ad. There aren’t any on Devon Island. As it happens the island is Iceland. Close enough. Each time I see it I am momentarily transported back to Devon Island. Driving past a construction site and a huge pile of large gray/brown rocks did it too.

This experience has registered itself in a special part of my brain in a fashion very similar to something I did almost exactly 11 years ago: climbing a 800 foot tall sheer pinnacle (the “Petit Grepon”) in Rocky Mountain National Park.

I wrote a summary of that experience (albeit much shorter) for a purpose similar to these journal entries – to capture – and share as much detail as possible. At one point I spent an hour or so alone atop this pinnacle. This is part of what I wrote about that experience:

“I have read a number of astronaut’s personal recollections wherein they voiced similar thoughts which occurred to them while orbiting above the Earth. They witness a vista that so few people will ever share. At the same time, they are physically separated in an equally unique way. Meanwhile, Earth rolls by just out of reach in all its majesty. Same with me atop this pillar. The isolation had caused me to feel physically detached from the world around me. Yet the huge expanse that lay before me was hard to ignore. So far yet so close, so to speak.”

Keith walking on another planet

That experience managed to resonate and implant itself in me as I traveled across the U.S. and Europe for the following several months on NASA business. The experience made its most poignant presence known to me late one quiet October night aboard a sailboard on the Wye River as the stars swirled silently overhead. Although it has faded a bit with time, the experience atop that cliff still lives within me to this day.

Devon Island will continue to resonate within me in much the same way.

It is my hope that I get to visit this amazing island again. If I don’t, the experience is one I’ll keep with me for the rest of my life – an experience I know I will replay – and revisit – many times.

Regardless of what the future holds, I’ve been to another planet.

You should all try it. For that matter, everyone should.

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SpaceRef staff editor.