I’m not an arctic researcher. I’m not even a natural scientist – I’m a graduate student in business marketing. Still, when I caught wind of the opportunity to make serious bank by babysitting an international oceanic research station in the far north of Canada over the winter, I jumped at the chance. It would also give me loads of quiet, boring hours in which to write my doctoral thesis.
The entire station was crewed by me and two other students; a second year geophysicist and a fifth year English literature student. Our duties involved, simply, running nightly checks of the station and the seismic monitors. We all had work to do, so we typically only interacted in the cavernous mess hall at breakfast and dinner.
“Days seem too short to you?” David, the literature student, asked one morning.
I replied that they should this far up and that they would continue shortening until we entered constant darkness.
“No, I mean the whole cycle. 24 hours isn’t 24 hours.” With that, he wandered off to eat a Pop Tart and left me thinking there was something about the shortening daylight that interacted with his perception of time.
A week later, I emerged from my quarters looking for cookies. David was sitting alone in the mess.
“Ready for the nightly check?” I asked.
David seemed taken aback. “Are you kidding? I just ate lunch. It was just…” he looked around the dark room, “11 AM.”
David sat out of the check that night. And the next. And every check for the next week. I found him in his quarters one morning, unshaven with bloodshot eyes. He turned to me, the jutting cheek bones and neck muscles making it apparent he hadn’t eaten much.
“If you watch the minutes, every minute, the day stays right,” he said before turning back to his clock.
Paul and I left him to himself, taking up his responsibilities during the checks.
And then Paul missed breakfast. I went looking for him, assuming he had gotten a cold, before heading out to do the check on my own.
He answered his door in a chipper mood. “Something wrong? I was just about to come have breakfast.”
He visibly deflated when I told him it was time for the check.
Over the next three days, he began checking his wristwatch more and more frequently. He would cry out and get my attention when he noticed missing time. I never corroborated his experience; time seemed to flow normally.
Paul has taken up a table far in the back of the mess, one arm extended to keep track of his watch and the other keeping notes.
I’ve been doing the nightly checks myself for three weeks. Two nights ago, I checked off the last seismograph and turned to hit the mess. Daylight shone in through a window, light that only peeked out around noon each day. I had been on my check for fifteen hours. It felt like thirty minutes.