McMurdo in June

Thursday, 1 June 1995
It's been eerily still the past two days. The hot moist air from the furnace exhausts has been hanging in the air, filling it with tiny ice crystals that fall like snow but sparkle and twinkle on the way down. It's like a kind of haze or ice fog, but it's man-made. I've been told that the aurorae were amazing yesterday, but I wasn't outside at the right time to see them. It's just 15 minutes here, 15 minutes there, not amazing lights for hours on end. The winter isn't over yet, though.

Friday, 2 June 1995
I did manage to see some aurorae when I was out of town last night. There were some faint filaments visible over a good portion of the sky above the Ice Shelf, but the brightest one wasn't visible until we got on the road back home and stopped for a bit to see what we could see. There was one spot in the sky over Hut Point that looked as if it were being lit up by a small searchlight.

Saturday, 3 June 1995
We did much better at inter-station darts last night. The roster was Scott Base (of course), Davis, South Pole, Casey, and Mawson (another Australian base, on the Mawson coast near the Amery Ice Shelf and the Lambert Glacier that feeds it). I was the starting player for our team. I got a double 16 on my first dart. We were chewing up the field with throws in the 70's and 80's, when I got my second turn. I threw a double bull and a triple 19! It was just about the best throw I could have hoped for... it left us sitting at 22. Two players after me got a stab at a double 11, but Davis won again with a 7 and a double 16.

Sunday, 4 June 1995
I've just been out to Hut Point. There is a bit of light snow falling and the sky is just a shade less dark to the North. It's overcast, but the clouds reflect enough of the town's light that it's like walking on a moonlit night. With no wind and no one in sight, the only sounds are the roar of the town generator and the flicking of my eyelashes against my glasses as clear and as loud as a camera shutter snapping open and shut. The mountains are too far into the dark to be seen, so the milky lavender of the skies blends slowly into the boundless pinkish-grey plain of snow and ice. It would be wonderful to share this with a good friend or someone special. I am alone.

Monday, 5 June 1995
We spent most of today in Condition 1 due to poor visibility. Several travelers had to stay put for a few hours, until they could see to travel safely. I ended up working in B-165.

Tuesday, 6 June 1995
I checked out the bandroom tonight and had just worked out the bass part for "Locomotive Breath" by Jethro Tull, when Marcello wandered in. He picked up on the guitar part immediately and so we played a little of that and some 16-bar blues.

Friday, 9 June 1995
We finally won at inter-station darts! My best throw was a triple 19 and two single 19's (nearly a single and a double). Scotty won it with a double 14.

Sunday, 11 June 1995
It's been a pretty quiet weekend. It seems like everyone is saving it all for next weekend, after Airdrop (which is this coming Wednesday). I didn't do much except finally go down and rent a bass for the Winter. Now I can practice without having to check out the bandroom key. I'll still go down to the bandroom from time to time, but mostly for that recording studio feel. It was really hard walking that large bass case back to my room in the 65 knot winds. I almost got blown over several times.

Tuesday, 13 June 1995
Everyone is getting keyed up for Airdrop tomorrow. I got assigned to the "Do Not Freeze" recovery team. I'll be standing in a milvan, unpacking and stacking stuff for return to town. The front-end loaders can only reach the front of the milvans, so they need people inside to redistribute the cartons.

Wednesday, 14 June 1995
It's official: Airdrop is delayed until tomorrow. The forecast was for 12-18 knot winds with gusts to 35 knots, visibility to as little as 1/8th mile and a visibility ceiling of 2000 ft. They were trying to delay the drop for a few hours to let the weather clear, but it ended up as a full day's delay. The moon is so bright that it's lighting up the ice shelf. You can see the low clouds moving in.

Thursday, 15 June 1995, Airdrop
It's just one thing after another today. I managed to squeeze in one service call before the Airdrop departure, even though the plane was 30 minutes early. About eight of us climbed into "Angela" (one of the passenger Deltas) and we took off at 09:30. After a jaunty ride to Willie Field, we stood around for a while, looking for the plane. There were dozens of people, standing on and around a dozen vehicles, and it reminded me of the pictures and stories I've heard about waiting for the Space Shuttle to land (but much darker and much colder). It was cloudy, so there wasn't much light, even though it was a nearly full moon. In the dark, the ice shelf loses a lot of its grandeur; about 20 yards off, the ice just blended into nothingness, so it was impossible to tell that it just went on for miles and miles. The only reference points were the runway lights and the far-off lights of Scott Base (7 miles away). The plane popped below the clouds just a few miles out; when it was nearly in front of us, it kicked out all of the cargo pallets. The strobes on the "Do Not Freeze" bundles looked like glitter shed from the back of the plane. It only took a few seconds for all of the cargo to touch down. Once the all-clear was sounded, we took off in our vehicles for the area where the cargo hit (on the other side of the intended drop zone). Erik Larson, Shelly Weston and myself, all crawled into the back of a large, heated cargo carrier and offloaded six bundles of "Do Not Freeze" cargo from the loaders that had picked them up off the ice. Before we ever got there, crews collected all the parachutes and planted numbered green flags to help people find certain bundles and to make sure that all the pallets got on the right transports. Once we filled our cargo container, we wandered from pallet to pallet and helped guide the loads onto the loader tines. One carton of freshies exploded on impact, strewing lettuce, tomatoes and carrots all over the place, all of which had to be picked up. Two cargo cartons had parachutes that didn't open; they burrowed themselves a few feet into the hard packed snow that covers the ice shelf. All in all, it went well. Only a few bundles sustained any damage and nobody got hurt. We piled back into our Delta and bounced back home.

Once back in town, I got a call to open a Mac SE at Cosray; it needed to have a floppy drive replaced and Joe Longo didn't have any tools that would open up a Macintosh. I grabbed my personal tools as well as a handful of Xcelite bits and we headed out to Cosray. The "Travel Lodge", as it's called (due to a large sign painted up in the style of that particular motel chain) is on the road to Scott Base, down a little from the road itself. You get a good view of the ice shelf, Willie Field and the iceberg. Joe happened to be out there this morning and saw the drop. Inside, there is a room where people can stay if the weather turns bad (simple cooking facilities, a bed, a rack of books, etc.) and the main room with the cosmic ray experiment. The detectors are low, wide stacks of lead rods and polyethylene blocks, clamped together by aluminum angle-bracket and long sections of threaded rod. Each one is a couple of feet tall and at least 8 feet square. They detect neutrons that result from cosmic ray events in the upper atmosphere. So far this season, Joe tells me, they haven't detected any events, but I guess that's part of what they are looking for. It only took a few minutes to swap the drive, so I got to look around when Joe was re-installing the Mac and restarting the monitoring program. One of the legacies of experiments past is a trashcan, filled to the brim with the chad from miles and miles of punched paper tape. On the side of the can is a sign declaring this to be the "official bit bucket".

Once back in town (again), I got a message that Mitch, the comms supervisor, wanted to talk to me. They are planning another traverse to Black Island next week, to secure the solar panels for the remainder of the Winter and do some general maintenance work; Mitch wanted to know if I wanted to go. We'd be leaving on Tuesday and staying for a week-and-a-half. Contrary to popular belief, Black Island is not a tropical paradise, but a fairly arduous journey, punctuated by a fairly stark building and spartan accomodations. Nobody cooks for you; there is no television, and you had better like the people you go with, because there is no escape. You work when the weather permits and you sleep when you have to.

It's after 16:30 now; they told us that we could leave work early because our mail has been sorted and is waiting for us. I'm heading out now to go pick it up. Christmas in June! I'm glad I'll have my goodies to take on the trip next week, if I go.

Saturday, 17 June 1995
I've got a lot of stuff going on this week, so I'm going to pass on the traverse. It's the kind of place that you had better be sure you want to be at, because there is no going anywhere until the the time comes to leave. I wouldn't mind a few days, but nearly two weeks is a bit arduous.

Friday was pretty busy; I missed the inter-station darts match. I bowled last night and missed 100 by one pin. The games in the preceeding week didn't go as well for me, but I think that's because I was following other people's advice on what to aim for. Last night, I bowled the way that felt right and raised my score 50%; I even got a strike on my practice ball. After bowling, I dropped by Erik Larson's room. He had a bunch of people over to watch the 2-hour "Twin Peaks" movie with some additional, surreal footage added. Afterwards, we watched a home video that Yvonne Ramage got at Airdrop. It was made by a friend of hers from Oregon, and someone named Josh who was here five years ago. Josh started out the narration with, "I don't know who you are", and went on from there. All of the footage is from the area in and around the old quarter of Portland. They apparently have an outdoor festival every weekend, complete with food vendors and live entertainers; the crew with the camera managed to get lots of people to send greetings to Yvonne in Antarctica. I was amazed as the mysteries of the 24-hour, coin-operated Church of Elvis unfolded for us all. It's in a state of flux caused by a major renovation, but I cannot begin to describe the wonders and the miracles we beheld, even in its dishevelled state. We sat agog as we were shown (in the guest book) that The 24-hour Church of Elvis has had visitors from McMurdo before. More astounding still was that it was someone that we knew (Karen Joyce, from last Summer season).

Thursday, 22 June 1995, Winter Solstice
It is truely the depths of midwinter now. I looked at the horizon just after lunch, when the sun is at it's lowest high of the year - it was just a splash of dark blue beneath the black and starry sky. The Southern Cross and Alpha Centauri shone brightly through the milky way overhead.

I finally got my pictures back tonight. I turned 2 rolls of print and 3 rolls of slide film in at the Scott Base store. They were supposed to come back before station close, but due to mail delays down here, they didn't arrive until Airdrop. The pictures came out great. I've got shots of Christchurch, the LC-130 I rode, snow school, the ice breaker and the inside of Scott's Hut.

On the way back from Scott Base, the I watched the aurorae light up the sky from horizon to horizon. The shuttle only stopped for a moment, but even through an ice-covered window they were astonishing. It wasn't the color (pale, washed out green), it wasn't the intensity (one or two bright spots in a muddy spray), it was the complete coverage that really amazed me. I could see that the lights disappeared behind Hut Point Peninsula to the right and the Transantarctic mountains to the left. I haven't seen any other colors yet, but colors besides pale green are somewhat rare, I'm told.

Saturday, 24 June 1995
While trying to watch "Ed Wood" last night, I scraped together enough of a bowling team that we didn't have to forfeit. I'm glad I did; I broke my personal best score with a 136. Even so, we lost. By a lot.

I just got word that two of my packages for airdrop showed up at Pole. I'll not see them until Amundsen-Scott Station opens in late October.

Monday, 26 June, 1995
I was looking forward to the Midwinter Swim and BBQ at Scott Base, but it's been postponed for a week due to bad weather. Hopefully, it'll go off without a hitch this Sunday. As a direct result though, I postponed my crevasse trip a week as well. On each Sunday in July, there'll be two trips to the ice falls above Silver City. It's the same crevasse field we entered during snow school, but the big difference is that the only light will be starlight and whatever light we bring down with us.

Friday, 30 June, 1995
It's the week for disappointments. Up 'til yesterday afternoon, it had been a quiet week with pretty ordinary weather. It had begun to snow lightly in the morning (which wasn't cause for any concern), but by mid-afternoon, the winds turned fierce. Picture this - hundreds of square miles of ice shelf covered with a light dusting of fine powdery snow assulted by winds over 75 knots. The result was a nearly instantaneous white out. I was tallying all of the laser printers, walking from building to building when it hit. When I entered the Galley, it was calm and clear. In less than 5 minutes, it had gotten so bad that I couldn't see any building farther away than Medical. I called Weather to see what the conditions were and was told, "Condition 2". I managed to get to another couple of buildings before "Condition 1" was called. By that time, I was back in the Galley, so I waited it out there. Unfortunately, the winds continued for several hours, so there were no shuttles to Scott Base; the bar was closed, the shop was closed and there was no dinner. Much like the Midwinter Swim, I'd been looking forward to this dinner all season. At least we had a special treat on our side of the hill - tofu and fresh broccoli in peanut sauce. It's rare for two reasons: we haven't had fresh broccoli for weeks and peanut butter is in short supply.

After dinner, Erik ran another episode of "Twin Peaks". We saw that same wierd footage that was the strange end to the 2-hour movie, but it was in its original context as Special Agent Dale Cooper's dream, not a flash forward. It was still highly odd, but at least the second time around it made a little more sense.

It's been pretty warm this morning. I was finishing up the last of the printers and I noticed that even in a slight breeze, it didn't feel cold out. My face was completely exposed and there wasn't the slightest hint of the sting that I've grown accustomed to. I checked the temp later - a whopping +14°F (-10°C).

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