Essay On My Unusual Dream Vacations

Reported essays often forget either the ability to be literary in their writing, or else overcompensate for such and crowd out the facts with flowery prose. A balanced one is a pleasure to read, as with Douglas Fox’s “Antarctic Dreams” in the Spring 2016 issue of Virginia Quarterly Review.

In writing the story of the team of scientists attempting to drill a hole in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet for the first time, Fox puts the stakes right up near the top—$10 million in potentially wasted funding; years spent building the drill; an achievement in scientific exploration “on par with landing a probe for the first time on Mars.” Whatever lay beneath the ice might be something like what lay beneath the ice on the moons of Jupiter. Saturn. It’s not an unusual move to drop the reader right into a moment of precarious tension, then move out for exposition and introduction to the main players, but Fox does it cleanly and in a way that captures interest from the first paragraph. The writing is descriptive, but not lyric. The imagery serves a purpose and isn’t overdone.

On the day that drilling began, a brisk breeze blew through camp—propelled by a current of dense frigid air pouring off the high Polar Plateau, sixty miles south. Wisps of white, powdery spindrift slithered over the ground. At the head of the machine, two truck-sized generators started to roar, burning jet fuel to crank out nearly half a million watts of electricity. The drill’s circulatory system churned to life, and what was mechanical began to seem almost biological: Water coursed from one shipping container to the next through arteries of reinforced Kevlar hose as thick as a man’s wrist. In the first container, powerful ultraviolet lamps sterilized the water; filters removed outside material that might contaminate the pristine Lake Whillans, if and when the drill reached it. In the next two containers, Duling’s prized fleet of power-washers pressurized and heated the water to near boiling. The hot, clean water then passed into the next container, gushing into another Kevlar hose, more than half a mile long, coiled around a mechanized spool as wide as a city bus. Despite its vast scale, the drill functioned on a surprisingly simple principle, akin to peeing into a snow drift: By forcing hot water into the ice, you can gradually create a hole.

I could be coming at this with a bias, because I have always found what goes on at the poles of the Earth inordinately fascinating, but I do think Fox does a nice job of including very small doses of technical description without being pedantic. In general, the essay is much less scientifically dense than you might expect, favoring more accessible descriptions and allegories, which allows the writing a broader audience while stopping short of anything patronizing. Fox draws a parallel between the cohesiveness that existed among the team of seven drillers and the infinite, minutely coordinated functions of a human brain. He also lets a small number of choice, earthy quotes from the drillers themselves explain what’s happening.

“That’s a dairy storage tank,” he said as he pointed toward a truck-sized cylinder overhead. “A stirring tank, like out of a cheese factory. I bought it used from Ullmer’s Dairy in Pulaski, Wisconsin.”

He also shares pieces from the life stories of the drillers; what motivated them, how they ended up where they were. It pulls the narrative along without losing the overhanging tension we still feel as we wait to hear about the mission’s outcome. He details their personal lives, past and present, and the bleak struggles of living isolated inside “the dome.” The psychological makeup of this team of men is as central to the essay as the drilling mission.

As the drill inched downward, sometime after midnight Burnett, Gibson, and Blythe gathered for a respite in the control room. The space was cluttered with Carhartt jackets, goggles, gloves, plyers. A bottle of Ice Hole schnapps stood in a corner, reserved for celebration. They soon found themselves talking about one another’s dreams. Burnett, on his first-ever trip to Antarctica, seemed amused by the fact that he hadn’t had any dreams set there since he’d arrived three months ago.

“You will,” Blythe said. “As soon as you go home.” After his first winter at the South Pole, Blythe said, he “dreamed about Antarctica for six months straight.”

Gibson agreed.“I still have Antarctic dreams, mostly about my first winter” at South Pole thirteen years ago.“That classic dream that people told me about—you walk [outside] and instead of snow it’s all grass.”

This is touching, but could become corny really quickly. Fox steers the essay back into the tense give-and-take of multiple failed or aborted attempts to drill and analyze what was needed, the agony of having to leave and then return to try again. It’s neither just the story of the drillers as characters in a narrative nor just a reported feature of a research project. It’s an essay that manages to be a little of everything.

In the months after the researchers returned home with mud and water samples from Lake Whillans, they would go on to identify at least 4,000 types of microbes inhabiting the lake. In the absence of sunlight, these microorganisms subsist by gnawing on iron and sulfur minerals, and by burning simple fuels like ammonium and methane that filter up from the mud. The lake water itself is surprisingly temperate, warmed by geothermal heat seeping from deep in the Earth to a temperature of 31 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer than the coastal ocean waters 600 miles to the north. Lake Whillans would turn out to provide the best view, to date, of what kind of life might exist in deep oceans, buried beneath miles of ice, in frozen moons like Europa and Enceladus. As Priscu put it,“This is a new frontier. I think we need ten years of this before we really understand it.”

Tags:Antarctic Dreams, Antarctics, Douglas Fox, Lake Whillans, Virginia Quarterly Review, VQR

A dream vacation for me would be to go on a cruise ship and do everything there and just relax!

Vivian Rodriguez

Teacher: Robert Leal

Veterans Memorial Academy

My dream vacation is going to Hawaii and relaxing on the beach! Also going to Tennessee to sightsee and hopefully see some country singers!

Kourtney Vasquez

Teacher: Robert Leal

Veterans Memorial Academy

My dream vacation is to go to Las Vegas.

Marcos Monroy

Teacher: Robert Leal

Veterans Memorial Academy

My dream vacation would definitely be to go to Jamaica. I've always wanted to visit a couple of islands there and live the life that Jamaicans have to live each and every day.

Claudia Trejo

Teacher: Robert Leal

Veterans Memorial Academy

My dream vacation would be going to the Bahamas with no worries. I would want it to be fun and relaxing and have a memorable time and meet wonderful people.

Alli Reid

Teacher: Jean Bovee

Weslaco High School

Abu Dhabi is the destination for my dream vacation. It is the world's richest nation and includes so many activities. Their hotels are the size of cities, and everything there is extreme, from their shopping centers to their beaches. The Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi is the most expensive hotel in the world and includes the most extravagant spa and hotel services. Plus, Abu Dhabi is the setting for the new Sex and the City 2 movie. Any place good enough for Samantha and Carrie is a place worth traveling to!

Briana Pedraza

Teacher: Jean Bovee

Weslaco High School

My dream vacation is a trip to the Bahamas. From what I have seen, it is a very beautiful and tropical place. I love warm weather and the summer time would be perfect to visit this place. The Bahamas would definitely be my dream vacation.

Jaime Balli

Teacher: Jean Bovee

Weslaco High School

My dream vacation would be to go to Vatican City and to Jerusalem with my family. I would love to attend a mass given by the Pope and visit St. Peters Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and other memorials. Visiting Israel would be like being part of the past that is present in almost all of our lives. Then I would really enjoy visiting China, Japan, and South Korea. I feel that there is so much we can learn by learning about other cultures and customs.

Betty A.Garcia

Teacher: Jean Bovee

Weslaco High School

A dream vacation would be my dad by my side, a fishing rod in both our hands, and a large amount of bait fishing the horizon in the most popular spot to fish. There is no presence of wind and the water is crystal clear. We would fish every morning for two weeks at this place, enjoying every detail the day has to offer. Fish hooked or not, a vacation with my dad and fishing poles in our hands is always a good day to me.

Aaron Burciaga Jr.

Teacher: Jean Bovee

Weslaco High School

My dream vacation would be to Puerto Rico. I would love to swim in the blue waters and see people that to me only live through the internet. I would also like to see if it's true that it only takes 8 hours to travel the whole island. Plus it looks like there are a lot of things to do.

Astrid Gonzalez

Teacher: Erica G. Puntureri

Veteran's Memorial Academy

My dream vacation is to go on a cruise to Europe. I would love to accidentally run into Johnny Depp. But it would be awesome to visit the foreign country and see the world. That would be my dream.

Mariana Perez

Teacher: Erica G. Puntureri

Veteran's Memorial Academy

My dream vacation is to go to New York City. I would love to go there. I want to see the Statue of Liberty and the tall buildings. I would want to see some Broadway shows and shop at famous stores. I would probably want to go with my mom!

Cecilia Gonzalez

Teacher: Erica G. Puntureri

Veteran's Memorial Academy

My dream vacation is going to Hawaii and sitting on the beach getting a tan. I also want to go swimming in clear blue water. Playing football on the sand with my family!

Jesse Jimenez

Teacher: Erica G. Puntureri

Veteran's Memorial Academy

I would go to San Antonio. My mom was separated from her family when she was little; I would help her find my family. I probably have cool cousins.

Esteban Moreno

Teacher: Erica G. Puntureri

Veteran's Memorial Academy

My dream vacation is to go to somewhere out of state. That place would be Disney World. I've never been to Disney World and I hope to go soon. We don't have enough money right now, but my mom promised me that we would go, and I trust her. My uncle has been saving money for years and we are hoping that the jar will get filled. It is almost halfway full, and anytime we get money, we put it in there. My uncle has never been there either, so we are taking our time so we can go have fun, as a big family. We'll all go TOGETHER!!!

Meriah C.

Teacher: Angelica Alvarez

Vernon Middle School

My dream vacation would be Hawaii because of the super nice beaches. The beaches are such a nice, shiny blue that you can actually see the bottom. Also there is black sand. The nice view with the nice hotels, not to mention the nice fresh air. They also serve all kinds of cool fruit. There are also nice animals there. That is a cool dream vacation. It would be awesome.

Joshua F.

Teacher: Angelica Alvarez

Vernon Middle School

First we would start driving up to the District of Columbia, stopping at historic sites along the way. Each night, we would get a really nice hotel. Once we arrived at the nation's capital, we would get a nice hotel and spend the days looking at the museums and other historical locations and monuments. After our last night in our luxurious hotel, we would return home. We would take a different route that way we could stop at other museums and historical places along the way.

Andrew H.

Teacher: Angelica Alvarez

Vernon Middle School

My dream vacation is to go on a cruise to the Bahamas or Hawaii. Going to either of these places would definitely be a dream come true. I could go scuba diving, mountain climbing, or sliding down the waterslides.

Debbie B.

Teacher: Angelica Alvarez

Vernon Middle School

Coconut sipping, waves gushing, and burning flames on the beach is where I want to be. On a Hawaiian beach to be specific, surfing on the clear blue water and visiting five star restaurants and hotels. Just there with my family having a great time!

Cody Carcia

Teacher: Stacy Hill

Gutierrez Middle School

My dream vacation is to go to China & visit its cities. Since I love ghost videos I would mostly want to visit the inside of the Great Wall of China. I also read something that there was a creature named the Yeren; but the definition of that is called the "wild man." It is also like American Bigfoot. I would also eat their cultural foods; I heard they eat scorpions & silkworms. I would mostly like to be there for their traditional festivals & see how it is. The thing that I love most is to see is the creation of how they make video games.

Robert McCormick

Teacher: Stacy Hill

Gutierrez Middle School

My dream vacation would have to be to Hawaii so I can go surfing, eat Hawaiian food to see how it taste, go scuba diving and try to dance the Hawaiian song. I would try a lot of different things in Hawaii and just have fun. I would come back with a lot of souvenirs.

April Vega

Teacher: Dagoberto Pena

San Benito High School

Well my dream vacation is to go to Europe. To explore the beautiful land of London, Paris, France, England and more. I would love to go see the European discoveries, the Castles and learn the great history that roamed those lands. The European Continent is my dream vacation.

Cynthia Martinez

Teacher: Dagoberto Pena

San Benito High School

Well my dream vacation would consist of me going somewhere very far, yet a bit unusual. Making it challenging for me to find things and experience a whole new life style. I would love to visit Tokyo, Japan. For one I'd love to own some Japanese people in Super Street Fighter IV, eat real Japanese food and basically have the experience of going to another country. Plus my friend and I would love it over there since we love their food and culture. So going over there would be a worth while experience and vacation.

Abraham Ayala

Teacher: Dagoberto Pena

San Benito High School

My dream vacation would remain memorable for the rest of my life. It would consist of a trip to the land of the rising sun. Japan for the longest time has been a place of extreme wonder and amazement for many of my closest friends and me. It's just so different than any other place in the world especially the city of Tokyo. Tokyo is a city without an equal in the world because it stands on the cutting edge of the future with a combination of high-technology and tradition. Everything about this city is so diverse that to try and explain Tokyo to a person who has never visited would be nearly impossible. For it is in almost every respect different from all other cities in the world, and Japan unlike any other country in the world.

Jose Castillo

Teacher: Dagoberto Pena

San Benito High School

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