A Sunrise For Lucy

Cloud Rise Over Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station – September 2012 – Photo by Kris Amundsen

I can never see a beautiful sunrise without thinking of a girl I never met.  By all accounts Lucy was one the sweetest humans ever to walk the face of the Earth; a daughter that would make any parent proud.  The one thing I know for sure about Lucy was that she loved sunrises, especially the ones in the tropics.  As a high school student attending a boarding academy in Singapore, Lucy was in the right place to view some truly spectacular sunrises.  The violet, pink, red, and orange rays of the Sun reflecting on billowing tropical clouds has to be one of the most beautiful sights in the universe.

One day Lucy and some other girls decided to go for a nature walk around the perimeter of a local island.  They were able to walk along the beach for most of the way, but there was one section of rocky cliffs that had to be negotiated. As girls clambered over the rocks, Lucy lost her footing and fell.  She landed on a ledge about half-way down the cliff face with waves crashing against the rocks below.  The other girls called down to her and she responded by saying she wasn’t badly injured, but needed help to get up. 

One of the girls ran as fast as she could across the interior of the island to get help.  Arriving back at the school covered with cuts from the jungle foliage, she explained Lucy had fallen and would need to be rescued from her precarious perch.  She led the rescuers, including a doctor, to the site of the accident.  Try as they might, they couldn’t find a way to get Lucy off the ledge without additional assistance.  They were, however, able to lower the doctor down to Lucy, so that he might provide some medical care despite the difficult circumstances.  As night began to fall, a military helicopter arrived to attempt a rescue.  Despite their best efforts, repeated attempts were unsuccessful.  The helicopter crew was eventually forced to return to their base many miles away to obtain more fuel, additional equipment, and await better light.  I suspect Lucy and the doctor spent the warm, humid night talking about many things while suspended on the ledge between the starry tropical night sky above and the waves below.  He monitored her vital signs…heart rate, breathing, the quality of her pulse…as well as he could and silently prayed for his patient’s welfare and the soon return of the helicopter. 

As dawn was breaking, Lucy asked the doctor if he could lift her up enough so that she could see the sunrise.  As the warm rays of the rising Sun illuminated her face, I would like to think Lucy saw the most beautiful sunrise of her life and that it brought at least a faint smile to her lips…for it was to be her last.  Lucy’s young life ended minutes thereafter as a result of internal bleeding. 

Lucy’s death profoundly affected her classmates.  I must confess the story of Lucy’s short life profoundly affected me, a stranger who never knew her.  A reminder of the fragility of life and the need to appreciate the simple things it has to offer, such as a beautiful sunrise, are the gifts Lucy gave to me. 

At the South Pole, there is only one sunset and sunrise a year.  I had hoped for clear weather at sunrise, but instead viewed a sky filled with ice crystals and blowing snow.  Just as with sunset, we had a multi-day storm preventing us from seeing the returning Sun in all its glory, except for a few short breaks in the weather.  After many months of profound darkness, any sunlight at all is a joy to the soul and a wonderful sight to behold, but I am certain no sunrise is as beautiful as the last one Lucy saw so many years ago. 

“By The Dawn’s Early Light…” – 22 SEP 2012 – Photo by Dale Mole’
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18 thoughts on “A Sunrise For Lucy

  1. How did you learn about Lucy?  Was the doctor someone you met, or was her story told t o you by someone else who knew here?  Very sweet any touching story.  Carrole Ronk

    1. Thanks Dave! Spending a winter at the South Pole in such an alien, harsh, and unforgiving environment makes one appreciate all the wonderful things left behind…friends, family, and many of life’s pleasures. See you soon!

      Warm regards from the frozen south,
      Dale (from Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station)

    1. Thanks Linda! I try to make the blog more than just science, although there is some interesting stuff happening at the South Pole. After months of darkness, sunrise here is a very emotional experience…one that made me think of Lucy. Warm regards from the frozen south,
      Dale (from Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station)

  2. What a tragic and heart-wrenching, yet precious, story. Thank you for sharing. I, too, will always remember Lucy when I see a sunrise.

    Thank you for your wonderful posts too.

    1. Thank you for your kind words! Life is indeed precious and fleeting. We need to make each moment count…

      Best wishes from Antarctica,
      Dale (from Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station)

  3. Alex,

    Thanks much! It has been great having you as a colleague with which to share the long Antarctic winter and hear about your adventures at Concordia Station!

    Your fellow polar adventurer,
    Dale (from Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station)

  4. Such a poignant story, beautifully told.

    In the rush and bustle of city living, it is so easy to be detached from the reality that life is fragile. I recently watched a documentary by Werner Herzog about Antartica and I can really understand that the environment is so omnipresent and so hostile to human life there that it would force anyone who ventures there for science or spiritual searching to really appreciate all the simple beauties of life, such as sunrise.

    Thank you for sharing it. And thank you also for your own sacrifice in journeying to the end of the world for science. In my mind you are like the astronauts who went to the moon – totally amazing.

    Cheers
    Peter

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