McMurdo in December

Sunday, 3 December 1995
After dinner, I stopped by the Southern Exposure for open mike night but was too tired to stay past the first performer. Shortly after I got back to my room, Craig, my room-mate, came in and started putting on some of his ECW gear. He explained that he was climbing Ob Hill and invited me along; tired or not, I decided to give it a go. We made the climb with Theresa, one of his co-workers in The Chalet. I found the climb much easier than the one in January, but I was profoundly disappointed by the poor light as the sun tried to streak through a low, thick band of clouds. Still, I took a few pictures of town with the Apple QuickTake, but didn't see the point of wasting film. I'll climb up here again when one of the ships is at the ice pier.

We took a leisurely route down and stopped off at the aquarium on the way back to Crary. I didn't see that much had changed since my previous visit: the aquarium still smells of fish and the fish are still as ugly as can be. It seemed to be a popular place for such a late time in the evening; in addition to the three of us, there were a handful of VXE-6 who arrived at the same time we did. Nobody spent too much time in the aquarium; it's not a very exciting place when there's nobody to explain what is what and what is going on.

Monday, 4 December 1995
The Thai dinner at Hut 10 was a success. I finally got a chance to cook up stuff from my wayward airdrop packages that ended up at Pole this past June. Pole didn't open until the last few days of October; it took five full months for the package to get from home to my hands.

The Galley gave me almost everything I asked for. Cucumbers were the one thing I couldn't get. I had intended to balance the meal with a Thai Pickled Cucumber salad, but we haven't had a cuke in weeks. In the end, I made Thom Yum Goong (sour chili shrimp soup), Red Chicken Curry and Masaman Vegetable Curry. Lori and Paul were lifesavers in the kitchen: they chopped anything I needed so I could focus my attention on the contents of the pots. There were a few moments of excitement as I learned first hand that cooking on electric is not the same as cooking on gas: the Red Curry paste burned in a couple of spots where it sat directly over the heating element. The resulting smoke was as harsh as a tear gas grenade. All three of us were coughing for the next 20 minutes, even with the window over the sink thrown wide open. Fortunately, the curry paste was only burned in a couple of spots; I hate to think how bad it might have gotten if I'd been on the other side of the kitchen, chopping vegetables.

Dinner was served at 19:00 to an appreciative crowd. It wasn't as hot as I would have liked, but only one person (Karen Joyce) thought it was too spicy to eat, but she's not a real fan of capsicum cuisine. I thought Scot Colburn was going to pass out; he ate heartily, but his face was flushed and damp with sweat. Once the second batch of rice was done, a couple of us went back for a taste of seconds, cleaning out the Red Curry entirely and leaving only a serving or two of the Masaman.

After the dinner mess was cleaned up and the rubbish sorted, about half the crowd stayed behind for a while and listened to music. While packing up, I checked my stock of spices and determined that I can cook Thai once or perhaps twice more before the end of the season. Kris, Andy, Paul and I were the last to leave, each hauling a load of stuff out as we went, tired but sated.

Wednesday, 6 December 1995
While I was over at the Chalet today on a Macintosh-related errand, I stuck my head over into the ASA side of the building to find everyone peering out the window. There were a small group of Adèlie penguins wandering around near the ice runway road. Craig handed me a set of binoculars and I promptly tripled the number of penguins I've seen this year (from three to nine). Now I've seen both varieties that I'm likely to see in the wild. (There are four species native to the continent, but only Adèlies and Emperors are seen around Ross Island. Chinstraps and Gentoos are found around the peninsula and other coastal areas).

From the Chalet, I took a pair of cameras (digital and film) around the corner to the water plant, to photograph the blasting at the ends of the ice pier. Even more disappointing than the smallness of the explosions was that the only shot I took with my 35mm SLR jammed the camera. The mirror is stuck in the overhead position and won't pop back down into place. If I can't fix it myself, I'll probably have to go without for the remainder of my trip.

Saturday, 9 December 1995
I finally found the problem with my 35mm camera: a spring sprung and wasn't forcing a pawl back to its starting position. I had to remove a dozen parts to get to the spring, but I think it's going to work now. I'll run a roll of black and white film through it before I'm sure it's really fixed.

At work today, I got an invitation to the Kiwi Hangi up at the MCC. I arrived a little early; the food was still cooking and there were only a few of us milling around. The crowd showed up a few minutes after I did. At 20:30, our hosts asked us all to assemble outside for the Karanga and the Haka (Maori for "The Welcome" and "The Challenge"). First, Gareth, part of the RNZAF, came out and described the Karanga and the Haka, then the overhead door opened and several other members of the RNZAF marched out in formation, clad only from the waist down. Once they were in position, Corey (fully dressed) walked among the men, singing the Karanga. When finished, she moved off and was replaced by a tall gentleman who moved in and barked orders in Maori. The rest of the the men chanted in response, striking pose after pose in unison. When they were finished, they lined up and processed back into the MCC; the crowd then headed in for the feast.

The food at this Hangi was much the same as at the Diesel and Drummi party this past winter at Scott Base: chicken, mutton, potatoes, kumara and cabbage, all steamed/smoked/slow cooked in a drummi. It was just as good as I remember, succulent and flavorful without being drowned in sauce. Some people didn't think it had very much flavor, but I had to disagree. It was the flavor of the foods coming out from within, not external flavors imposed from without that made it so good. Beer I can always get, so I went for the L&P (Lemon and Paeora). I savored my meal for as long as I could, then headed down to the coffee house to meet Stan.

Kim Stanley Robinson, author of Red Mars, Green Mars and (soon to be published) Blue Mars has been down here for the past few weeks as a "W event" (W-007), part of the artists and writers program, researching Antarctica for an upcoming book set here. I had offered to share some of my winter-over experiences with him, some background on what this place is like when the sun goes down. We ended up talking about all sorts of places, from Antarctica to California (his home state). He's a pretty mean ping-pong player. He beat everyone he played (I got stomped 21 to 5). I'm not surprised that when he was at Pole, he was the ping-pong champ.

Sunday, 10 December 1995
I'm over at the coffee house watching Babylon 5 while using the PowerBook 170 to process the pictures from last night. It took me many hours, both today and other days last week, but I finally got the laptop working again after someone else tried to upgrade it from System 7.1 to System 7.5. The payoff for all this effort is a portable rig I can take with me into the field and use to take pictures, process them and add them to my Home Page.

Monday, 11 December 1995
Tonight was Stan Robinson's lecture, "Science and Science Fiction.". He started off by mentioning that if he had named the lecture "Science in Science Fiction", it would have been a very short lecture, as it is the setting and the circumstance that puts a story in the science fiction genre, not the scientific content. He kept the audience attentive and laughing for the entire hour. After it was over, a bunch of us went to the coffee house with him and chatted 'til closing time. After that, I went back to work to print out a copy of the flyer for Stan to take home. We met up again in the wee hours of the morning, after he had scaled Ob Hill one last time. It was late enough that a choice was necessary: sleep or breakfast; sleep won by two votes. I went home, took a two hour nap, and was good to go.

Wednesday, 13 December 1995
The annual northbound holiday migrations have begun. Yesterday, Stan Robinson was on the first flight of the season out of Willy field; tonight, I said good bye to Toni Asbill, Tom Delio and Bob Collier. Toni I know from the coffee house; Tom was part of the WinFly crowd; Bob was a beaker with S-042 whom I helped with computer problems both here at Crary and out at Lake Hoare.

Thursday, 14 December 1995
When I was up at the MCC last night saying goodbye to people, I noticed a sign on the door to the mail room that suggested that some mail might be sorted by Thursday afternoon. Tonight, the sign said no large packages were sent and not to get too excited because not much mail arrived in any case; I, however, got my share of excitement when I found my name in the package log: the last of my WinFly pictures have finally returned. These were two rolls that I had to resubmit in November because I bolixed up the order form. One entire roll was of the Emperor penguin on the road to the ice runway (the first penguin I'd ever seen down here), the other was a mix of my Sea Ice training class, the flag tying party at the Heavy Shop, and one of my trips to the ice runway.

The demolition has begun on the oldest building on station, Hut 9, the old Navy photolab. My first clue was the absence of the foyer and the neat pile of construction debris out front.

Greg Falxa is heading home tomorrow. His farewell party was down the hall from my room, in the 207 lounge. The small crowd that gathered, played pool, chatted, drank a few beers and nibbled on the kiwi cheese and crackers brought by Matt, a fuelie I know from Marble Point.

Sunday, 17 December 1995
The first meeting to organize Ice Stock meeting was tonight in the 207 lounge. The line up looks like The Fuel Pit Pickers (formerly led by "Captain Swabby", who went home before they played at the Halloween Party), Fuzzy Logic and the nameless band I'm in. We've got two weeks to get our act together, but we've already got a four song set that we're comforable with.

Tuesday, 19 December 1995
The first sleigh ride was today. Everyone who had never been to Pole was eligible for one of the seats on today's flight. I was not selected. Those that went had a great time. The most special part was the route home - over the top of Mt Erebus with a clear view of the caldera. It's something that very few people get to see.

Wednesday, 20 December 1995
Hut 9 is history. I stood by and took pictures as the carpenters peeled off the corrugated roof and cut through the arched beams. Because of my seasons of archaeology in Greece, I felt a twinge as I watched the last remaining link to the earliest days of the station being cut up and pulled down. David Greiz told me that in 1956, Hut 9 was the Ships Store and summer quarters; now it's an ice-covered vacant lot.

The departures continue; today, the last of the Wormherders (S-023) went North. They were here studying nematodes in remote areas. When I was out at Lake Hoare, two of them, Mary and Erika, were out on the lake, walking from survey site to survey site. They were a great bunch and I'm sad to see them go.

Friday, 22 December 1995, The Summer Solstice
It's the longest day of the year in the southern hemisphere, but this far South, it's just another day of 24 hour sunlight. Sunset isn't until Feburary 21st, three days before station close. I'll be in Christchuch by then.

Andy tested his homemade cloud chamber today. It's made from a custom-cut 25 cm (10") glass cylinder with spring-loaded detachable aluminum covers. The top has an alcohol-soaked felt pad fastened to the inside; the bottom is colored black to enhance contrast. The entire rig is placed over a cold source (liquid nitrogen in this case) and becomes quickly filled with alcohol vapor and trails of small bubbles that sink slowly to the bottom before condensing. When radioactive decay particles (beta particles, mostly) pass through the chamber, they leave a visible wake in the layers of bubbles. Occasionally, something much heavier than an electron passes through the chamber, leaving a broad, heavy scar in the fog.

We finally got a decent amount of mail from the stockpile up in Christchurch: three pallets (a few thousand pounds). I got back photos and slides from my mainbody trip to the ice caves and Cape Evans, the day I went ice coring with Dan, and the day I went fishing with Jocelyn. My ambient light photos are coming out great, but my flash photographs still need work.

Saturday, 23 December 1995
I tried to watch "Pulp Fiction" last night, but the tape was in such bad shape that we all walked out on it. I ended up in the 204 lounge watching "The Shining", cracking wintering-over jokes in the back row with Andy and Rex, the other winter-overs in the room. I'd never seen the entire movie before, only a few minutes at a time. Now I understand why it's so popular with folks who've wintered here; one prime example is Scatman Caruther's line, "the people watching the hotel have turned out to be completely unreliable assholes."

The weather was so great when we left work that I grabbed my camera and finished off the black and white film on a photo series of the "IX Pack", the cluster of nine Jamesways that was formerly used to house men on their first season on the ice. Chris Hanson and Scot Colburn stayed there when they first arrived last summer, but the Navchaps (Navy cargo handlers) were the final residents. The XI Pack has only been used for storage since Station Close last season. It's about to join Hut 9 on the list of former historical strucures, probably in the next couple of weeks.

The big party tonight was at the Heavy Shop. It was large enough to support two bands, The Fuel Pit Pickers and Fuzzy Logic; the live music started at ten and went on 'til half-past-one. When the Heavy Shop cleared out, I wandered home and watched the open water around the ice pier and the sunlight on the mountains from a perch on the back porch of my dorm. Since I was still wide awake, I joined Dave and the other shuttle drivers in 209 for a "Simpsons" fest. We watched the fourth and fifth Halloween specials, neither of which I'd ever seen before. The take-off of "The Shining" was hilarious, especially because I had just seen the original, last night.

Sunday, 24 December 1995, Christmas Eve
Last night at the party, I spotted Karen Joyce wearing a blinking pin bearing the name "New Castle"., her home town. It was given to her by Evelyn who still lives there, when she's not working here. Karen's first reaction to my comment that I'd heard of New Castle was, "yeah, right.". When I told her about shopping at the Giant Eagle and buying beer at the Beer-4-Less, she was amazed that I actually had heard of it.

I got up in time to catch a quick turkey sandwich at the Skua Deli (the galley was buzzing with dinner preparations and didn't have the resources to cook a full brunch today). After lunch, I was going to go to the coffee house, but Amy and Tracy (our suitemates) knocked on the bathroom door and told us that the party was on. I spend so much time out of the room that learning about it was a pleasant surprise.

Tracy offered me a drink, kahlua and cream (made with fresh milk, recently brought down from Christchurch). Being a special occasion, our hosts served the first drink over glacial ice made from compacted snow that fell 2000 years ago. Unlike the glacial ice used for drinking water at Lake Hoare, this ice was filled with compressed gas bubbles that sizzled and popped as the ice melted.

At three, people split for dinner and I headed for the coffee house to show B5. On the way over, I met up with Donna and Tara (two of the regulars). Because of the holiday, the hours are 18:30 to 01:00, not the usual 13:00 to 23:00. We decided to postpone the show 'til after dinner. With nothing to do for an hour, I stopped by the Hobby Hut and checked out a bass (the same one from this Winter) to bone up on the tunes I'm playing at IceStock on New Year's Day.

On the way to dinner, I saw people with packages streaming down from the MCC. A couple of thousand pounds of mail came in on last nights flight; even though it's a Sunday, volunteers sorted the mail and kept the mail room open for a couple of hours, allowing us to get the last of the holiday packages. I finally got the tape of season three of Babylon 5, and slides from my ice cave trip at WinFly and my R&R in New Zealand.

Christmas dinner was similar to Thanksgiving dinner: special hors d'oeurves while standing in line, fresh breads of all varieties, a huge dessert table and turkey with all the trimmings. The special dish today, however, was not the bird, but the crustacean - lobster tails, as tender and well prepared as at my birthday dinner last season.

I arrived a little after the start of the 4 O'clock seating and ended up lingering over dessert until well past 6, talking about English TV comedies with Kiwis both from here and Scott Base.

Monday, 25 December 1995, Christmas Day
Last night, I ended up spending most of the evening at the coffee house, showing epoisodes of B5, from the second and third seasons. From the coffee house, I went with Kevin, Andy, Paul, Yon and Kathy headed over to midrats, then, on a lounge-to-lounge VCR hunt. Eventually, we came across an empty one: dorm 207, my dorm. Kevin brought "Black Rain" from his room, and we stayed up late into the night.

I woke up just in time to make it to work at 11:00 (all of us in the Lab had to put some time in over the holidays). There was only one person working on the computers; I took the opportunity to catch up on a few things. I've spent the rest of the day practicing bass and working on my journal in the coffee house.

Tuesday, 26 December 1995, Boxing Day
When I walked out of the dorm this morning, the clouds were low to the south - very low. More than one flight was canceled because Willy Field was socked in. Ob Hill is only 800 feet tall, but the clouds poured over it like fog pouring out of an open freezer on a hot day. At times, the warehouses, B-87 and B-89, half-way up the hill, were shrouded as well. The amazing part was that Mactown itself was under bright and sunny skies.

Just before lunch, Paul told me he was on the way up to the Crary library to watch penguins, a flock of 19 Adèlies playing near the ice runway road making their way, on foot and sliding on their bellies, from the direction of the ice edge over towards Cape Armitage and Scott Base. We watched their antics through the telescope for a good ten minutes before they all lined up in single-file and marched off.

One good thing came out of the cancelled flight: I got a chance to ask Camron Hastings for a quick refresher lesson in black and white film developing. I remembered to mention it to Craig, my room-mate, and to Diane, one of the other winter-overs who stayed for the summer. Diane and I took turns developing a roll of film; mine was TMAX, hers was PAN-X, but the only difference in the darkroom was how long we ran the developer cycle. I saved the chemistry in case I want to do some more black & white processing this month.

Wednesday, 27 December 1995 (onboard the helo)
They're repairing the radar altimeter on the helo. They told us that the radar altimeter needs repairing and that we've got at least a half-hour delay.

The fast low clouds are back. With the sun only occasionally peeking out, it's a been cooler today: 25°F (-4°C). Ob Hill is out in the open, but Arrival Heights and T-Site are both hidden.

Wednesday, 27 December 1995 (at Lake Hoare)
After an hour, we took off for Marble Point with a full load of cargo and pax. The rest of the people onboard were fuelies, heading out to Marble to run fuel hose to the shore for when the tanker comes down in a few weeks. On the way there, we flew along the ice edge, low and slow. There were lots of penguins, Adèlies mostly, but best of all, just off shore, whales. I couldn't see what kind, but the loadmaster said they were Minkes. Compared to that, the rest of the ride was pretty dull.

It's been a long day and I've spent almost all of it indoors. I've accomplished most of what I came out to do, but I had to call back to Mactown for a replacement printer cable. Hopefully, it'll get here on the first helo, or else I won't have time to install it before I'm yanked out of here at lunchtime tomorrow.

Thursday 28 December 1995
I worked well into the night, then took a short walk by the Canada glacier, then went back to my tent and slept the sleep of the dead, 'til breakfast. The phones were being serviced back in Mactown, making it difficult to test much of anything. I did, indeed, get pulled out before lunch, and spent two hours on the ground at Marble Point. We did fly over the Commonwealth glacier which was kinda neat. There were lots of melt pools on the top, blue as swimming pools.

After dinner, I got the band room and tried to organize a practice; it didn't happen. I only knew how to reach Ken, the guitar player, but when I met him there, he greeted me with bad news: he'd broken the top two strings on his guitar and there were no replacements to be found. It's not looking good. I practiced for an hour, then went to the coffee house, then home, to bed.

Friday, 28 December 1995
"This is Spinal Tap" was showing in the 207 lounge tonight. It drew quite a crowd. I haven't seen it since I was in England, 10 years ago; it's still a great film.

Saturday, 30 December 1995
In the words of Mike Christman, our drummer, "Stick a fork in us, man, we're done." The band will not be going out on stage at Icestock. Because of work, each of us has missed one of the last three practice sessions. I was really looking forward to performing, but we just couldn't get together often enough to practice.

After printing out this week's Babylon 5 flyer, I'm heading over to Andy's for a pre-New Year's get-together.

Sunday, 31 December 1995, New Year's Eve
I spent the evening in the coffee house with a bunch of folks playing "Celebrities", a game where everyone divides up into two teams and throws names of famous people into a hat and take turns getting the other members of their team to guess the celebrity's name. The hitch is that on the first round, you can say anything but the name itself; on the second round, you can only say two words; and on the final round, no words, only gestures.

We recessed for the stroke of midnight and stood outside in the sunlight for a while, amazed at it all, toasting the New Year

When the coffee house closed at 01:00, all of us poured out and played frisbee out front, at Derelect Junction, joined by people pouring out of the two clubs. We played for over an hour, then went to the 209 lounge to watch "Eat a Cup of Tea". It was too late and I was too tired; I went home in the middle of it.

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