Dear Jerry,

I’m somewhere around 20,000 feet, and I think I’m freezing to death. Please send blankets. We’re on the way to oversee a polar station in the middle of nowhere. It’s 9 hours there, and 9 hours back. On this giant plane, there’s only 6 of us. There’s somebody in this nose compartment with me, for Arctic topography. He’s constantly airsick from staring at the moving ground. As the medical officer, my job is mostly passing out airsick bags, and wearing 3 flight suits so I won’t freeze to death.

I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner next week at home, and I’ll be happy to see you. Mother is running in tight circles at home getting ready for the occasion, and Daddy is fasting so he can make the most of the brief period of gluttony. I heard about the menu already, but I’ll let that be a surprise for you. It will be great to have a home-cooked meal again. I think we had frozen chicken for dinner last night.

It’s mid-day now, and all I can see ahead of us is endless flat ice. Thankfully the water system in the BOQ at Ladd is now fixed. For the last few weeks, we’ve all had to shower next door, and then run at high speed back to our building through the sub-zero temperatures. I’m seriously jealous of you in Guam. Sitting on the beach, playing gold, swimming in the ocean. Want to trade? Alaska is beautiful, if you want a change.

See you next week,

William A. Long, Jr., Fairbanks, November 15, 1960

Our flight to Tokyo left at 5pm, following the sunset to the west as we climbed north for 3 hours. The airport was filled with tourists on their way home, with boxes of mangoes and pineapples. It was mango day yesterday. Soon after we got to cruising altitude, the islands disappeared into endless ocean, and everyone seemed to fall asleep. The stewardess offering ice cream passed by unnoticed, and the passengers sank into their straw hats. The lights stay low, but I keep watching out the window, continually sucked into the sunset, and the distant mountains of clouds hanging over the ocean. Even Rie falls asleep, and the outside seems to gently disappear for all the sleeping passengers. The holiday is over, and we’re returning home.

When we reach Tokyo, it’s already dark, and the farm fields of Narita are dark blue and foggy in the evening mist, the small yellow lights of the houses sitting still under the half-hidden new moon edging over the horizon. Tomorrow I’ll develop our film, and we’ll start taking pictures again. There are always those leftover shots after a trip, of the just-after-returning from a trip photos. They’re of your home, or people and places you see everyday. But maybe in the end, these are the most genuine from the entire roll.

Will Long, Tokyo, 2013

Climbing Formation is packaged in a matte-coated, full color digipak, pressed on a glass-mastered CD in an edition of 500 copies.