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Vostok vs. Belmont

                                    Ned Balbo


Lake Vostok is the largest sub-glacial lake on Earth. And yet, it isn’t frozen: the ice on top exerts such pressure that the buried water churns; it doesn’t rest, not for a minute, and hasn’t in one million years.

Long Island’s Belmont Lake is more accessible by far, and, at an average depth of three feet, much less intimidating.

I’ve actually rowed on Belmont Lake, usually with a girl in tow and only at an age when saying girl should be forgiven. When conversation stalled, I’d glance down at the muddy water, dark bursts rising in strands that swam and broke up in slow motion.

Sometimes we broke up in slow motion.

No fish live in Vostok; it’s a dark and spooky world. Sunlight from above has never touched its pristine surface. Vostok, at its deepest—beyond a thousand, two thousand feet—harbors creatures that you and I dare not imagine.

Just ask any scientist.

Life in Vostok, they maintain, is like life on Jupiter’s moons.  Gravity’s massive: great, green tides advance with huge, stately precision—tides that would be green if light could pierce the ice and reach them. The water’s fifty times more oxygenated than that of Belmont Lake, which makes it toxic, except for creatures out of novels by Jules Verne.

They rise through miles of subzero Antarctic ice. Translucent flesh lit from within, they roll majestically through darkness, guided by touch from rock to rock.

It is through this very darkness that we ourselves once moved as teens, seeking to clasp each other tightly, searching for some hold or crevice.

On some nights, this vision of Vostok is enough to help me sleep—the knowledge that, somehow, living flesh survives the pressure of those depths.

On other nights, the merest thought of Vostok frightens me awake. To calm myself, I try to catalogue everyone who helped me row—all those girls, women now, to whom I seemed some startled creature, circling slowly on Belmont Lake above caked mud and paper cups.

Or I focus on how, as a kid, I skated its frozen surface, my father standing on the bank, my mother steadying my passage. The sun is bright, the ice beneath crisscrossed with grooves and cuneiform, its glaze like that of some frosted mirror that shows no other world beyond.


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