Summer has come to McMurdo, and with it, Daisy Picking Season. Seeing as there is no species of daisy native to Antarctica's volcanic-ash-and-permafrost soil, "daisy picking" is a euphemism for trash collecting. Specifically trash that, having frozen into the ice over the past winter, now begins to surface all around town during this short period of thaw. (The bright and balmy 38 degree weather has folks out playing frisbee in t-shirts and flipflops.)
The station must look clean and shiny because summer is also the season when the sea-ice softens enough for an icebreaker to cut a channel all the way to McMurdo - established here because it's the Southernmost point in the world accessible by ship - making way for distinguished visitors in the form of Senators and other funding sources, cruise liners bearing the kind of tourists who can shell out $30,000/person, and most importantly, Vessel - the annual resupply ship which brings in the entire stock of provisions, construction materials and liquor for the following year (and takes out the previous year's tons of waste and recycling.)
On New Years Day, our freshly de-daisyfied town square aka "Derelict Junction" will also host Icestock - an outdoor music festival featuring local talent and the famed McMurdo Chili Cookoff...
[SUN] 10.23.05 - 6:17 pm
First storm since we've been here and everything but McMurdo is at Condition 1. Josh [my next door neighbor, Painter foreman and snowboarder extrordinaire] says they'll wait until the Search and Rescue team has brought folks safely in from Ice Runway becore shifting us up from Condition 2, because Condition 1 means lockdown.
I'd dozed off reading my book and woke up to the fire alarm going off. In Antarctica, fire is the worst possible eventuality, and after having followed my confused milling dorm-mates out into the cold, wearing nothing but my light indoor clothing, giant red parka and unlaced boots, I have an even better understanding of why. The wind whips around at over 40mph, trying to carry you in its course, and rocketing tiny shards of ice and volcanic ash against your cheeks and sunglasses.
We took refuge in Hotel California ["party dorm" next door to ours] and watched from the upstairs window as the firefighters pulled up in their green engines, sirens unheard above the howling wind. Our dorm is on the edge of town, which means we get the brunt of any storm coming in from this direction. Turns out someone upstairs had gone and left his window open, and the blowing show inside the room had set off the particle-detecting fire alarm. It took two firemen to bust the door to the room open - not because it was unlocked, but because the presure inside was that great. Apparently, during Winfly [short, sparsely populated six-week season between Winter and Mainbody], someone once left the windows of the Lounge open and everyone returned to find it full of snowdrifts. Even with the windows tightly shut, this wind comse in through the hinges and leaves little deposits of snow build-up around the window frame. There's nothing to be seen through the glass but white and more white, and a few rocks at the base of the building being blasted over as they disappear and reappear in the white.
[WED] 11.02.05 - 11:30 pm
Lisa [my roommate] is right. Everyone here does look a little bit like they've been punched in the eyes. I can't really imagine what it must be like for the poor Winterovers, once genuine insomnia sets in - rather than just the whacked out circadian rhythms, continual restlessness, and flat out lack of time for solid sleep that we're all going through. Michael [blue-haired shuttledriver friend who lives in Hotel Cal] talked about Winterovers "T3ing" - when the sun, by way of disappearing, stops resetting your internal clock and you lose the ability to sleep, you also start losing your short term memory. To the point where you'll just drop off in the middle of a sentence and forget you were ever talking. Sometimes I feel like that's happening to me now. I'll lose track of a train of thought and be completely unable to recapture it. I think I'm just tired, though.
I went to see Anne DelVera's screening of Poles Apart - a documentary about the "first all womens' trans-Antarctic ski expedition," which she was on. It was inspiring, sitting in the Galley and thinking, "Here's this unassuming, self-effacing, little 5'0" salt & pepper haired science tech, who skiied halfway across Antarctica. You'd never suspect unless you talked to her, and it's more hardcore than most of the people I'll meet in my entire life."
Life is beautiful.
[SUN] 11.06.05 - 9:25 pm
Sunday night. Room to myself. Lying on my bed, listening to the radio. They're doing some maintenance on the Black Island satellite transmitters, so all off-Continent communications are down for the weekend. No phone, no internet, no incoming TV news network, just Ice Radio.
Bill - the scarf-rockin', electroshock hairstyle sporting IT guru, who's about as close as McMurdo gets to metrosexual - is DJing tonight, which means we get more of a variety than usual. He just played Miles Davis and now we're getting some "good Country." Not that I object to the normal fare of rock, 80s schlock and indie. Hell, it's better than what they play on AFRTS [Armed Forces Radio and Television Services, I think?]. But on the rare occasion that someone in the station is playing good music, I really enjoy just hanging out in my room and listening to the radio.
[MON] 11.07.05 - 6:13 pm
I got a call while I was cleaning the Chapel on Thursday afternoon, from Amanda [my boss], wondering if I'd like a boondoggle! So on Friday morning, I got up and went dive-tending at Cape Evans. We met at the Dive Shack at 8:45. Myself, Paula from Medical, an air traffic controller named Jonathan, and the divers - Mike, the cute beaker grad student who I met when Patrick was showing me around the Crary Lab aquarium, and Rob Robbins ("Dive God"), who's apparently been coming down for 27 years.
"Wow. Are you even old enough to have been coming down that long?"
"Yeah, I've been coming down since I was three."
(Rob's one of those people, like Peter [my team lead at work], whose sense of humor is so sarcastic and dry that it's almost impossible to tell when he's fucking with you. It's great.)
"So, have you been doing this the whole time?"
"No, I've done a variety of things over the years. Like, I was Station Manager for a couple of years."
"Yeah, being a diver is better."
We drove out on the sea ice to Cape Evans in a PistenBully. Mike let me drive for a while, and it was much less scary than I'd expected. At the Erebus Glacier tongue, where the ice has started breaking up and exposing open water, we came across about a dozen Weddell seals chilling in the sun. It's pupping season, so many of them were pregnant, and one of them had an adorable two-day old pup snuggled up against her (and the reddish remains of a placenta smeared across the snow about three yards away.) Seals are kind of ridiculous creatures on land - they're bigger than me and look like giant, rotund, furry slugs. And they move around a bit like slugs too. But Rob says that in the water, they're incredible graceful, powerful, and fast. Apparently a researcher over at the British station recently disappeared on a dive and when they found her body, they discovered she'd been eaten by a leopard seal.
In addition to enormous furry slugs, we also got to see some gorgeous blue-ice pressure ridges - places where the sea ice has flowed up against the permanent ice shelf and, having lost that battle, been thrust up into these sharp vertical walls of ice. I think that was my favorite part about going out on the sea ice - the realization that we were driving and walking on the ocean. Salt water freezes at about 28 F.
We continued on to the dive hut, which is basically a little hut with a heater, some coat hooks, and a person-sized hole through the floor and the six or seven feet of ice beneath it. We helped the divers get suited up into their dry-suits. The suits are insulated rubber that covers pretty much every inch of the body, including gloves that lock into the sleeves with watertight seals. The only part left exposed is a little bit of the face. The divers say it's not so bad, because your exposed skin goes numb so quickly that you hardly feel the cold - although taking your regulator out can be bad news, because when you want to put it back in, it's hard to find your mouth.
The divers went down a couple of times and eventually returned with a bag of sea urchins. They look like slimy Koosh balls. Some other beakers had come by to check their traps, so we got to hold sea cucumbers and starfish. We were advised to avoid touching the sea worms unless we wanted our hands to smell disgusting for the rest of the day.
I rode back in the beakers' van, where we sang Ace of Base songs at the top of our lungs, Dominique and Mike traded cheesy old rap lyrics back and forth over the radio, and Kristen (a dispatcher from the Firehouse who'd tagged along for the ride) gushed about the seal that had curiously poked its head up through the dive hole just as we were getting ready to leave.
Back in town about 4:30, I found myself surprisingly exhausted for a day of doing essentially fuck all. I guess they're right about how much energy it takes your body just to counter being out in the cold. I took a hot shower, called August, and did my laundry - which I then proceeded to dump all over the bed and not put away before going to dinner. I wore that baby blue dress-shirt that I stole from Matthew for the first time since I've been down here and it made me miss him.
[MON] 11.14.05 - 1:10pm
I went and skiied the Armitage Loop on Sunday with Rachel, Steven and Rich [all Deployment Group friends - Rachel's a plumber, Steven writes for the Antarctic Sun, and Rich is the town PC Tech]. None of us had ever cross-country skiied before, so it was pretty funny. I think we basically got the hang of it. It's a lot like swimming - both in the rhythm and the type of overall physical exhaustion following it. Lots of fun. I'd like to do it again. We had the perfect day for it too. Sunny and bright, good ice conditions, almost no wind. I skiied alongside Steven for a good chunk of the time and we talked about our respective plans once we get off the Ice, despite the fact that having masks and hoods off to hear each other talk lead to freezing ears and noses.
[TUE] 11.15.05 - 6:04 pm
Cleaned the Ice Runway today. Grossest bathrooms on station, but worth it to get out on the sea ice. It's amazing how much the horizon opens up when you get even that far out of town.
Went to see Virus at the Coffee House. It's set at Palmer Station, and people in the audience kept making cracks about the idea that you could fit eight hundred people at Palmer. (I think the population of Palmer is about 20 at its most crowded.) Anyway, it was fantastically, satisfyingly bad, but no The Thing.
Also saw my first skua yesterday. Well, I've seen them flying around and stuff, but this was the first one I'd seen up close and personal. It was just sitting out on the road behind the Galley like it owned the place. People would walk by within inches of it, and it wouldn't startle or anything, the way birds usually do. Just sat there with this, "Yeah? You wanna go? I know you can't touch me. Gimme that sandwich," look in its eye. Autum [neighbor and fellow janitor] says she got divebombed by one the other day. It flew down right over her shoulder, nabbed something off her tray right through the celophane, and took off without so much as touching her.
[THURS] 11.17.05 - 11:03 pm
I think I'm starting to settle in here. It's hard to explain... It's not like getting into a routine - because I've basically already been in more of a routine than I've ever had in my life, since the first day I got here. It's more like the "newness" has begun to rub off, just a tiny little bit, around the edges. My phenomenal experience of McMurdo has, in a very very limited way, begun to take on the character of Everydayness. Of "this is so much my life that it doesn't even occur to me that it's my life." Of being an element of my Selfhood rather than Other enough to be noteworthy. Granted, the contrast of that "default" feeling to the constant and somewhat continually exhausting hum of low-level awe in the backtround ... it's a bit of a relief. It's a bit like a feeling of coming home. And that resonates with the fact that it's only when I get really tired that I start getting morose and homesick and craving the simplicity of being in a context wherein I know intuitively where I stand.
It really does feel like I'm constantly in a state of Awareness here - that the absurdity and surreality of Being is present to me, at all times, on a heightened (albeit still very background) level compared to how I normally experience the world. One thing that does is give me a very clear and consciously experienceable appreciation for the default feeling of Everydayness. Which is pretty funny. One of those Tao paradoxes.
[FRI] 11.25.05 - 7:07 am
Adrian Hatch is playing "Imitation of Life" on the radio. I miss August.
[FRI] 11.25.05 - 6:25 pm
Called home for Thanksgiving and got through to Dad! [We share four outgoing phonelines between about a thousand people here, so it's usually tough to get a line off-continent, especially on holidays] It was awesome. I miss my Dad. I got all teary-eyed talking to him. Talked to Keek too. He decied to graduate a semester later than planned and then take some time off before grad school and go to Africa. Sweet.
The All Hands Meeting was insufferable as usual. Jay, the head of Station Services, gave what basically amounted to a long, apologetic talk on why the Dining Assistants have a horrible, painful, stressful, thankless job that they totally don't get paid enough for. (Although he didn't use quite those words.) However, he did tell us that Food Services staff account for 30% of the inuries on station, despite comprising only 5% of the population. Ouch. Poor DAs.
[SUN] 11.27.05 - 6:43 pm
It snowed on Friday night. Real snow! The most I've seen since we got here. [Antarctica is technically a desert, so we actually get very little precipitation.] Eric and I were up at the Heavy Shop 'cause he'd been promising to show me around where he works. Although we were only there 'til 3am, the little slivers of extrabright sunlight coming in through the windows in the shop doors kept giving me that beautifully accidental, "Oh, wow, we stayed up 'til sunrise" feeling, and we left to find the whole station blanketed in about three inches of gleaming white fluff.
On Saturday, we were in the MMI [Mammoth Mountain Inn, my dorm] Lounge watching Lemony Snicket when we heard a thunderous pounding up and down the hallway... We poked our heads out just in time to get caught in the middle of an indoor snowball fight. A similar scene ensued later in the evening: about ten residents of MMI were hanging out on the upstairs balcony - which Andy and Brandon [Andy is another janitor and Brandon is the apprentice locksmith] recently christened "Tequila Beach" - drinking some pre-Thanksgiving Dinner McMurdo (aka makeshift) Margaritas (no sour or margarita mix, but someone snagged some Rose's from the bar, and Andy scored fresh limes!), when we were snowball-sniped by someone from Hotel California. This prompted Rip [aka Laura, facilities engineer who just graduated from CU], Dave [janitor] and Sky [works for Retro - the people who are working to ship off-continent all the ancient junk, litter, broken-equipment, etc. that's been here since the Navy was running things. Also fronts McMurdo's most popular Reggae band, Jah Chant] to go flying downstairs and the snowball fight of the season was on. (Or, at least, the snowball fight of the week. I hear that last time it snowed, there was an epic battle between the Heavy Shop and Fleet Ops.)
At 3, I went and volunteered in the Galley, who were swamped preparing the Thanksgiving meal. My first time helping out, but probably not my last. It was fun standing in at the front window with the spray gun - but I certainly wouldn't want to do it for nine hours a day. And even doing it for an hour and a half was pretty taxing on my hands and arms, so I can understand how so many DAs get injured.
Dinner was as much a feast as promised. I enjoyed seeing everybody dressed up - and seeing what everyone's version of "dressed up" entailed. Ate at a long and heavily wine-laden table with a bunch of friends from Christchurch. The Food: green salad with all sorts of freshies and Caesar dressing * cheese (which was less stale than usual) * lots of cocktail shrimp * freshly made rolls * turkey with gravy * roast beef * mashed potatos * mixed sweet and starchy vegetables * cooked asparagus * cranberry sauce with real cranberries * stuffing with gravy * and two pieces of apple pie with real whipped cream.
Comedy Moment of the Evening:
Rich: [Something about Dave Bresnahan, the NSF Station Manager]
Steven (raising his glass in a triumphant toast [because he writes for the paper and thus has to work closely with Bresnahan and can't stand him]): Speaking of Davey B, he's finally leaving this week! And...
Me: And he's standing right behind you.
Bresnahan: I most certainly am.
Steven: *jumps and spills wine down his shirt*
[MON] 11.28.05 - 6:16 pm
Q: What's brown and bubbly and goes "tap tap" at the window?
A: A baby in a microwave.
[TUE] 11.29.05 - 10:31 pm
A note on the intelligence of beakers:
So, it's official Housing policy that if you find a bag of unsorted trash in a recycling center, you're supposed to search it for something with the person's name, so that you can hang it on their door with a note to please sort their trash into the appropriate recycling bins. [Everything you throw away in Antarctica has to be sorted between about eight different recycling categories before being shipped out. Basically, Antarctica's only export is tons and tons of garbage.] Today, I found a bag of unsorted trash - a ripped bag of unsorted trash - containing a bunch of used biowaste. Wadded up tissues, bloody bandaids, what looked like science waste in test tubes, a used syringe... This isn't just annoying. This is classified as hazardous material, potentially dangerous to Janitorial and Waste staff, if it's not properly bagged and disposed of. The kind of thing that could really get whoever threw it out in trouble.
Of course, that means we'd have to know who threw it out, and someone leaving this kind of mess in a public waste center isn't possibly going to be stupid to leave their name in it... Except this guy was. Not only did the bag contain something with his name on it - that thing was his credit card. Not even cut up or anything. Impressively dumb.
Anyway, I'm sitting in the Lounge right now and a bunch of people are watching Little Orphan Annie. I'm not sure why. I've actually never seen this before... And it's fucking ludicrous.
[TUE] 11.29.05 - 11:41 pm
The walls in this building are very thin... and someone, somewhere, is singing "Tomorrow".
[MON] 12.05.05 - 10:15 pm
I got mail! From Matthew, Joanna and August, as well as la famille. I just rolled around on the bed and giggled reading Matthew's letter. And Aug put me in one of his penguin comics! ♥ ♥ ♥
[TUES] 12.06.05 - 6:14 pm
Work is hard. Oof.
"You know, back home, if you like someone but feel it's best that you not be with them, you just don't hang out. But here, you can't just not hang out, because that requires that you, like, don't eat."
- Lisa [my roommate and also much sought after Hot GA.]
[WED] 12.07.05 - 10:16 pm
So the damned Mass Casualty Incident Drill finally happened today. Nice to have that out of the way. It was pretty disorganized and there wasn't much for me to do. I played recorder for Tad's "broken arm" and then basically spent a couple of hours sitting in the corner of the Firehouse writing a letter.
I wish I could transcribe here the story Lisa just told be, but I don't think I can do her storytelling style justice. Basically, she and a couple of other GAs take a PistenBully out to flag the road to Pegasus Airfield, but by the time they get as far as the Long Distance Balloon launch site, the weather is getting kind of sketchy. So they go inside to get some food and wait it out.
After lunch, it looks like the weather has cleared up entirely, so they make to head out ... when they're stopped by Jules and Anne DelVera, who demand that they come inside the FleetOps jamesway [sort of a cross between a temporary building and a really permanent tent] and have a cup of coffee with them, "because there's weather coming in." Lisa's a pretty experienced mountaineer and she doesn't see any such "weather" anywhere, so figures Anne and Jules must be trying to fuck with the fingees [aka FNG, "Fucking New Guy" - anyone here for their first season, which usually includes all the GAs] and that Jules is just trying to get Lisa to come hang out. (Jules has been coming down for like 30 years. She's notorious for every season picking out some hot FNG girl to seduce, and this year, it appears to be Lisa.) "Jules," she laughs, "We're supposed to be working!"
At this point, Jules gives the GAs this 'are you completely insane?' look. "You can't see the storm over there? It's going to be here in twenty minutes. If you're out there in it, you're going to be stuck and they'll have to send the Search and Rescue Team after you."
Lisa and the rest of the GAs look out, they can't see a thing. "Jules, what are you talking about? It's beautiful out! You can see clear to the horizon. Look, you can see the mount- ... oh. That huge black thing isn't the mountains, huh? That's the storm..."
So they followed Jules and Anne inside, and sure enough, twenty minutes later, they're drinking hot coffee and the jamesway is being rocked by wind and snow. ("I felt so green!" says an embarassed Lisa, recounting the event.)
[FRI] 12.09.05 - 8:09 am
Walking home this morning, watching the beautiful streams of clouds winding around the snow covered tops of the Royal Societies (it snowed last night! big fluffy flakes!) with the sun brighting down ...
[TUES] 12.13.05 - 7:11 pm
I've been feeling pretty burned out the last couple of days. Drawing on Kitsune hardcore just to stay afloat.
"It's just one of those days when you realize that your job is shit, you get paid shit and it's fucking your body up anyway, you live in a room the size of a cardboard box and you live with the people you work with so you're never really off the clock, and even if you were, you're in fucking Antarctica."
Eric humored my baby cynicism as only a man who got himself kicked out of Catholic school by the time he was five can, and took my sad, sick, exhausted self in for snuggling and Bill and Ted. That made a big difference. As did getting a good night's sleep and getting back on a regular schedule, after being thrown all out of whack by being home sick for three days. I'm still feeling pretty drained, though.
But then something will remind me of all the things that frustrated me so much about being in Boulder and the bile still rises in the back of my throat. Apparently there's shit I still haven't gotten over and ... well, I guess the grass is always greener.
But this is Antarctica. There ain't no fucking grass.
[WED] 12.14.05 - 8:32 pm
Here's my notebook scribbling from today -
I sound as if I'm down on McMurdo and I'm really not. I'm crazy about the place. It's just that I overwhelmingly get the feeling that we're all playing House. It's fun, and I'm getting to learn and practice all sorts of useful life skills in an environment where the consequences for failure are essentially insignificant. But there's this constant underlying awareness that none of this is Real, and I long for genuine communion.
[SAT] 12.17.05 - 4:10 pm
I think one of the best lessons Antarctica has to teach me is that it's one thing to throw yourself into some intense situation hoping to get in over your head, suffer through it, test your mettle and come out on the other side with the injuries and battlescars necessary for proving whatever it is you were trying to prove - and certainly, I hold rites of passage in very high regard and think there can be a lot of virtue in trial by fire. But it is far more hardcore a thing to be responsible, respectful of your environment, and willing to take care of yourself enough to live sustainably in that same harsh situation.
In other words, I'm a lot more impressed by someone who can spend twenty-seven years living in Antarctica and still be a relatively friendly, well-adjusted guy who can go to his job every day and have a sense of humor about it, than I am by the guy who undertakes some feat that most people wouldn't have the guts to even attempt, but loses a toe or goes crazy because he was being macho and reckless about it.
[SUN] 12.25.05 - 11:48 am
It's Christmas morning!
So, some genius of planning reserved Hut 10 for the Housing Department holiday party on the same night as the town Christmas Party. So we went to Hut 10 early to paint Christmas ornaments, drink Nicole's "Frosty Boy Nog" [pseudo eggnog made with softserve mix stolen from the Galley] and did a Skua White Elephant [all gifts found in Skua - an Antarctic institution, kind of a communal goods and trading thing... Every dorm has a "Skua" bin where people donate usable stuff they don't want anymore (ie clothes, shoes, books, wrapped food, electronic equipment, and often inexplicably random stuff like ... well, I found a LiteBrite in Skua today) and anyone else is free to take it.]
Then Andy, Patrick, Lalove and I went to the Town Party. It was awesome. It's the most well-attended event of the season, an even huger deal than the Halloween party. They cleared all the vehicles out of the Heavy Shop, because it's the biggest indoor space in town, and filled it with Christmas Decorations, amazing food, a DJ booth and dance floor, Santa's Village (Rob and Big Keith took turns playing Santa), a big slideshow where people could project pictures of family, friends and occasionally cars that they missed back home, and a bar - over which the boys hung an old sign they'd found from way back when there used to be a bar out at Willy:
The Kiwis set up a barbecue and grilled sausages. The Christmas Choir sang carols on stage. (Marisa and I tried to hang around and watch because AnaBell was singing, but we could only handle so much Christmas music.) Sandwich got something like 50 people dressed up as elves and Santas running around. And the Heavy Shop boys set up a "VIP" room in the back with a 'special' bar that clandestinely served actual liquor [in addition to the Rec Department's sanctioned wine and beer] - at least, as much liquor as they could get their hands on considering the shortage, including the bottle of Bacardi I handcarried from Christchurch, and a $100 bottle of scotch that Eric sent Eddie to acquire from Scott Base [the Kiwi station].
Only in Antarctica is Christmas a heavy drinking holiday...
Wandered. Talked. Drank. Danced. Ate. Took pictures on Santa's lap with Holly and Marsha [cool chicks who work Supply for the Heavy Shop]. Drank some more. Things wound down around 2am, Eric closed the bar, and we headed back to Hut 10 for a bit. Kidnapped Stephanie [another cool chick who works nights in Cargo] and Keith [mechanic from Texas when he's not playing Santa Claus] and stole a Matrack van [great big treaded tracks instead of wheels, for driving over snow] and drove the Castlerock Loop in the middle of the night. Totally illegal but beautiful. We drove right by Silver City and the ice falls (and over the infamous "Planks-of-Wood-Over-a-Crevass bridge"). I'm glad Eric didn't tell me until after we got back into town how many times we almost died... :P
Saturday morning, Eric and I got up around 1pm for Brunch, where we ended up getting filled in on last night's big drama: A drunken fight out back of the shop while the Christmas Party was going on. Stephanie had actually tried to break it up and Buffalo had punched her in the head. The rumor mill has been churning ever since about who was where when, who started what, and who's getting fired.
Spent most of Saturday chilling and then went to Heavy Shop's Cosmic Bowling night. It was my first time in the bowling alley, and it's great. Tiny and dimly lit with two narrow, warped lanes, a little counter/bar with bowling shoes and a fridge behind it, and pictures on the wall of people bowling at the "Grand Opening" in 1961 - with stuffed penguins as pins. The best part of the evening was Max, who was pinsetting and plastered, so kept falling down at the end of the lane, knocking pins over, rolling around on the floor shouting obscenities at the folks down the other end, while we laughed and chucked soccer balls at him. Eventually one of the flourescent lightbulbs blew up and that kind of ended things.
We cleaned up the broken glass and then Keith, Eric, Stephanie and I headed over to Stephanie's place at Hotel Cal, where she made us hot buttered rum. Yum. We hung out talking until midnight, when she took us as her guests to Midrats Christmas Dinner. Doubleyum. [Midrats = Midnight Rations. Midshift meal for night workers. Widely rumored to be the best food on station.] Went up to the shop where Stephanie was given the grand tour and we got to climb up and ride around on the crane. Went home around 3am and crashed out immediately. I really like sleeping next to Eric but this whole squeezing into one twin bed thing is definitely reminiscent of college in a bad way.
Got up at 9am and went home for MMI Christmas Morning. I brought along a little foot tall fake Christmas tree I "borrowed" from Black Island Bob, and we opened Secret Santa presents in the Lounge. Mine was chocolate rocks from Bert! I also got long underwear from les Grandparents, a card and some money from Dad, and from Katelyn - the new Harry Potter movie!!
[Christmas Elves invade Tequila Beach]
[WED] 12.28.05 - 6:25 pm
Mail came in!
First time we've gotten packages since Nov. 19th. I think people are generally willing to accept that food and even science equipment is higher priority flight cargo than stuff people ordered off Amazon.com - but the disgruntlement about how long our packages had been sitting in Christchurch collecting dust reached a fever pitch once people realized it meant we wouldn't be getting Christmas presents in time for the day. Mail from home is a huge morale factor, and considering how on edge people already are this season - what with frustrations over the liquor shortage, all the bureaucratic "Safety" bullshit, missed construction deadlines, the injury rates in the Galley, the stationwide mandatory dishwashing duty ... and the fight over Christmas weekend didn't help - it was starting to feel like that mail flight had better come in soon or somebody was going to get hit with a hammer.
They actually did try to bring it in the day before Christmas, but the plane cracked a windshield and couldn't fly. So it came last night, and the whole town was abuzz with rumors. Did the plane land? What was on it? Was there mail? What kind? How much? I heard everything from three tri-walls of letters to six pallets of packages. [Units of measurement I'm not even going to try to explain. Suffice to say that tri-walls are small and pallets are big.] Lying in bed last night, Eric was telling me what he'd heard from someone who had talked to someone in Cargo, and I made the amused observation that, in the World, people primarily gossip about sex ... and while here people certainly gossip about sex, the biggest topic of gossip is mail.
The official word this morning was that the flight had brought 1400 lbs. of packages. The post office people and recruited volunteers were up all night sorting it. You could see a visible change in the attitude around town today. No longer the looming edginess of the past few weeks. Now everyone is walking around smiling, boxes under their arms, sharing their aunt's homemade toffee. Me, I got a box from Mom full of little Christmas gifts such as Legos - which answers some of my questions about how the hell certain things find their way to Antarctica in the first place, much less into Skua. The funniest part is that herbox was stuffed with packing peanuts. Styrofoam packing peanuts are illegal in Antarctica. They're made from a material that violates the Environmental section of the Antarctic Treaty, and technically I don't think they even have a recycling category. I don't know how I'm going to get rid of them. Maybe I have to call Haz Waste...
Yep. So, Christmas came to McMurdo twice this week. I also got to go out of town to clean at the airfield today, and the weather was gorgeous. Lisa's shoveling snow at the Pole for two weeks (lucky bastard), which means I've got the room to myself. I've got a good line on a Winter position. I got mail from my wonderful friends who I love so much - including a cute postcard that Joanna wrote me from the Trident. New Years is coming up. And basically, life is awesome.
[THU] 12.29.05 - 7:05 pm
I'm tired. Bone fucking tired. And the season's barely more than half over. School-life is so regularly interjected with periods of downtime - long weekends, Winter Break, Spring Break, Summer. It's hard to wrap my mind around the fact that, if I Winter, the longest stretch of rest and recuperation I'll ever have between now and next August will be two days. And that rarely. [We normally work six day weeks, so two-day weekends only happen for holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Years.)] I'm still going to do it if I can, no question. But it's going to be one hell of an endurance test.
[FRI] 12.30.05 - 5:58 pm
I'm sitting on the balcony of Hotel Cal, watching the icebreaker come in. "Come in" is, perhaps, a little strong. It's pretty much just sitting out there surrounded by chunks of churned up sea-ice, with clouds of dirty brown smoke streaming steadily out of its equally dirty blue and white striped smokestack. After reading so much about the Fram and other icebreaking ships of the early explorers, it's cool to see a real one in action. Granted, this is a more modern version of their round, wooden-hulled vessels - but seeing as Raytheon hired the cheap, old and Russian Krasin this season rather than their usual contract with the Coast Guard, I'm not sure how much more. Its method for getting through the sea-ice involves backing up as far as it can go into the zigzag channel its already created, and then ramming forward to essentially run "aground" on top of the ice in front of it. It then simply sits halfway on top of the ice, letting the weight of the ship sink it slowly down an down until it breaks through to open water again.
It's been visible from town for a few days now, but apparently hit some particularly dense ice yesterday and was only able to make it two miles. It's looking like it will arrive in port sometime this weekend though. It's amazing to think that, not a week ago, there was an airstrip where that giant boat now sits. I'm interested to see how big it really is up close. Something about the vast expanses of reflective whiteness here throws your intuitive sense of perspective off, so it's difficult to determine size and distance. Right now, there's some big straight-winged creature soaring over Mt. Discovery, and I can't tell if it's a nearby skua or a far away plane.
New Years Eve tomorrow. I've got a date with Ruth at 7pm to shave my head.