Feb. 22, 2014, 14′ WC -2′

I skipped a day.

I wrote a couple of emails, and responded to a few others, but I just didn’t have the heart to write anything last night.  It was my last shift at the Vehicle Maintenance Facility, and I just felt hollow.  I found every item that was asked of me by the mechanics.  I swept the floor.  I cleared out my cubby and my email account.  I watched out the window for the golden sunset again, and felt the same amazing feelings I felt last time.  I was absorbing as much of the atmosphere as I could knowing that this adventure is coming to an end.   It was too difficult to think of how to say good bye to this place.

Deven Stross, my friend and coworker here at the VMF, shared with me many of the photos he had taken over his last 13 months at McMurdo.  Penguins and seals of course, the Aurora Australis, cloud colorations, even a wedding that took place here last June…what an amazing collection.  And videos that he makes himself out of the time lapse photos he has spent weeks editing to create minutes worth of humor that will split your side open.  I will be his biggest fan, not because of what he has done as a photographer, but from what he has taught me about this job.  His skill as a pickle operator and his enormous knowledge of the computer system we use here.  He is truly a Renaissance man, capable of everything, and valuable at all things.

I spent the second half of this all too quiet shift downloading his photos into my collection, with his OK of course, and trying to think of the right way to say “Thank You”.   There was no right way that held any value.  Like on “The Big Bang Theory”, Dr. Sheldon Cooper tried to thank Penny for Leonard Nemoy’s autograph on a napkin; there just isn’t enough stuff you can give the person who helps you keep your job.  And makes you look good at it too.  I suppose I will just have to send as much business his way as I can, back in the real world.  Although I sincerely doubt he will ever need help from me.  His work is just amazing.

So…when I got off work, I went and ate dinner, and in the process of trying to readjust from night crew to day crew, I simply stayed awake, watching movies and reading magazines, until 10pm so that when I do finally fall asleep, I will wake up, adjusted, and on time to take my luggage over to the flight line for the return trip home.  But here I sit, well after midnight, unable to sleep.

Antarctica is just infectious…it doesn’t want you to leave.  And in some precious few ways, I don’t want to leave either.  I don’t look forward to being Wollowitz saying “Look at what I have done!”  I look forward to taking this confidence and wisdom and patience and fortitude home to share with those that I love.    And  with any luck at all they will say to me, “Look at what you have become.”

Tim

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Feb. 20, 2014 18′ No wind

Now that was worth it.

I had some fun with the blog I wrote yesterday about missing out on the first sunset, but seeing the presentation tonight was simply extraordinary.  I made arrangements to extend my lunch hour enough to get some good pictures.  I didn’t really care how long it took, and since Deven was available to watch the desk, I would not be missed.  As I left the office and walked down to the Galley for lunch all thought of food fled my mind.  I could see the yellow tingeing the clouds above and the bright golden rays were everywhere across the base below.

The light show had begun.  Lots of high broken clouds streamed across the sky in waves while the sea below was as calm as I have seen it since the ice melted away.  I stopped dead in my tracks ten steps out of the VMF door and grabbed my camera out of my bag.  The golden light washed over the base and made everything look surreal.  The fire-engine-red NSF trucks looked pink.  Simple cardboard boxes shimmered and glowed like expensive Christmas wrapped presents.  The remaining snow from last night contrasted against the deep black earth on the hillside and sparkled like granulated sugar on a Red Velvet cake.  And the sun itself…no wonder at all why early humans worshipped it.  It was just fantastic.

I just hope your computers can show the colors that I have seen tonight.  There is no image enhancement at this end.  What you see is what I saw.  I know that as I viewed the pictures on my desk top, I was a little disappointed by the vividness of the colors.  Unless you are here to see the almost storybook quality of  nature’s pallet, you just can’t understand.   Enough with mere words.

second sunset Feb. 20, 2014

second sunset Feb. 20, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Feb. 19, 2014. 8′ WC -4′

It’s snowing.  Damn.

Aside from the fact that the TCN we are working on has mellowed out, and is co-operating with us now, I am bummed out.

The snow is beautiful and the winds are gentle.  Even the low hanging clouds that swirl in eddies around the tops of the hills nearby are amazing to watch.  I am back and forth between warehouses a lot this evening putting away all of the bits and pieces that have come out of our TCN.  I have an unusually clear view of some beauty that eludes my ability to describe.  And all of it is mesmerizing to watch.  But it’s not what I want to see.

Tonight at 1:20 am the sun will set for the first time since I have arrived here ten weeks ago, and I’m going to miss it.  So is everyone.  The clouds extend beyond the horizon and the long golden rays of sunlight we have been enchanted witness to all week are gone.  We have a picture perfect soft falling snow.  The kind of day you would love to go for a walk.  Forget the shoveling and the icy roads or the slow traffic…just experience the childlike bewilderment of catching snowflakes on your tongue.  I have been told I should enjoy this moment because it never happens here.

McMurdo sits on the coast itself and the interaction of wave and water generates some vicious storms, as you witnessed during the Maersk Illinois departure photos.  It is uncommon to see the snow fall to the ground, as it is most often flying horizontally at wind speeds that turn it into sandblasting on your skin.  I  can be happy that things are calm tonight, but I still feel a sense of cosmic betrayal that I will miss this once in a life time moment that I have been looking forward to for – literally – months.

I know there will be more sunsets before it is gone completely for the true Austral Winter, but there is something special about “the first time” something happens.  I will have to console myself with the moment that I see it for the first time:  But it’s really not the same.  It’s sorta like watching the Super Bowl during  the repeat because it’s convenient, rather than loosing sleep by getting up in the middle of the night to watch it live.  Ew…now when I think of it in those terms, maybe I should be glad I’m gonna miss it.  Just sayin’.

This does bring back a cool memory though. Comet Kohoutek made a pass through our neighborhood in 1973.  I remember my Dad waking us up to see it.  That in itself was unusual because as father to 10, he most often wanted us to be sleeping at 4am when he woke up to go to work.  But this was special.  It was supposed to be the biggest show in the night sky as the comet should be sloughing off a large amount of ice crystals as it passed close to our sun.  Which it did:  On it’s approach to the sun when Earth was still far away from it’s orbital path.  By the time it made it’s way ’round to us and the big show, the pyrotechnics were over.  Sigh…that made me think of the last Super Bowl too.

Anyway, what I’m slowly getting at is this.  There are so many things we as humans take for granted in our daily lives, like sunsets and flowers by the side of the road, or birds singing in the trees.  None of those are here in Antarctica. (Well, the Penguins do make some noise, but not often. It really isn’t a pleasant sound either.  Sorta like Brittany Spear’s voice without Auto tune.)

I will get some photos of tomorrows sunset.  And I’ll enjoy it while it happens,  but I still feel a little jilted.  I guess I’ll just go out and catch snowflakes for a while.

Tim

 

 

 

 

 

Feb. 18, 2014 8′ WC -2′

This is better now.  Negative two isn’t so bad when there is no wind to push it around.

Hardly any wind.   We have had extensive cold with little cloud cover, because the sun itself is inching farther North with each rotation and taking his warm with him.  The flights away from McMurdo are progressing smoothly for the most part.  We had experienced problems with the runway at Pegasus, and then some of the awful weather I had described for you cancelled a few flights.  The domino effect delayed the departure for many of my friends, but we are mostly back on schedule now.

The extended cold snap has rescued the runways, and the decreasing population at the base makes filling the planes much less stressful for all involved.  Many people, like myself, are in no hurry to leave.   I volunteered to remain a week past my original contract in order to help finish up the night shift in Vehicle Maintenance.  Once we hit the end of the contract for the remaining mechanics, they will discontinue work overnight in all facilities across the base.  There will only be a handful of safety, and weather personnel working from their offices during the wee hours March till August.  For temperature concerns, everyone else works a pretty standard 8a-5p Mon-Sat.  I also knew that the Pegasus runway was very soft this season because of the unusually warm weather.  They were limited to flying only planes with ski type landing gear for a long time which reduced the amount of gear coming in and people going out.  As things refreeze at this time of year, larger planes with wheels will be able to land.  The turnover for the new season will then finish quickly.  And there will be fewer people here to compete for seats on the scheduled flights.  I may have some leg room on the way home 🙂

Besides, we still have work to do, and I would rather follow through than hand it off.  Tonight Deven and I  started a project called a CTN – Carton Tracking Number – which looked to be easy, standard fare for this location at the VMF.  It is one of those 4x4x4 cartons that you have seen in my photos.  There is a certain number printed on the side of the box, and inside is the product manifest of everything that is supposed to be in it.  Most of the CTNs that I have handled since off load have been easy.  Everything listed was in place and nothing was damaged.  But tonight we are off to a wicked bad start.

The first two items I was looking for were needed -yesterday –  for an emergency repair.  They were in the box, but listed by the wrong item numbers and needed to be re-entered into the computer in order to be handled correctly.  We have so far found multiple bundles of 3 different items that were not even listed on the manifest.  I’m not even sure they are automotive parts.  Two more items came up with their  item numbers listed as discontinued.  Poor Deven had to take care of those problems because I had no clue what to do.  The stage is set.  He will be the Brains and I will be the brawn.

Although the reality that this box presents us, with it’s ridiculous input errors, with it’s myriad mistakes, we are working more like Pinky and the Brain.  The comedy continues tomorrow because we just found another something wrong…

“So, what’ll we do tomorrow, Brain?”

“The same thing we do every day, Pinky.  Try to take over McMurdo!”

Feb. 17, 2014 6′ WC -14′

Oy!  Somehow I made a Post disappear yesterday and the only way to save it was to re-name it as a page.  For those of you who are curious, and I hope all of you are, you can back out to the sidebar of the main page and scroll down to where it says Pages and look up the one item listed there for Feb. 16th.  I thought it was a nice enough blog, but the two photographs I added are beautiful and well worth looking at.  Sorry for the inconvenience, but bilge happens.  (Oh man, I have spent too much time around boats…)

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. 

We are officially into the negative digits with wind chill temperatures.  They will likely stay that way now, as the Autumn last about 7 seconds here.   And because the season has changed already, the winds are picking up.  They are  almost constantly blowing; tonight they are a constant 20kph.  Now, I am no meteorologist, so I had to Google this to be certain, and I found out that Miles per hour is faster than Knots per hour, although it’s pretty close.  The ratio is 1mph = 0.868kph.  So at 20kph we are really getting winds at 23.01mph.  And if the standing temperature is less than 10’F, those winds make your fingers fall off.  We recently had a storm with gusts up to 40kph, but I was at home asleep when they hit.

We are very close now to standing temperatures that stay below zero until next October.  And the smiley, happy people who have just arrived on station to start their winter over couldn’t be happier.  A large majority of those who have arrived have done this before.  They are a different breed than the summer folk like myself.  They are not here for the penguins or seals, although the wildlife will be here for a little while longer.  They are not here to run the marathon, or cross country ski to the Pole.

These are people who love their solitude and have an intense dedication to their individual efforts.  They know that they are in a hazardous work environment and they take all the necessary precautions for their safety.  They may or may not be social animals, but they are keenly aware that there are only 150 other people on the base with them for the next 6 months.  They better love their jobs.  And I would be rude not to mention the 40 souls at the South Pole Station.  These folks have very little else to do beyond their work and whatever art they bring with them.   And God bless each of them with the ability to be friendly and patient with each other.  From personal experience, my family routinely hosts Thanksgiving dinners for more bodies than those who will work at the Pole for the next nine months together.  Patience and friendliness only last until the last piece of pumpkin pie is gone.  Just kidding.

There is one certain joy to working here through the endless night.  I have it on good authority, from my co-worker and friend Deven, who has just concluded his second winter-over, that there are amazing views of the Aurora Australis.  Yes, I spelled that right.  It’s Borealis upside down.  Sort of…Let’s just pretend that it’s the Northern lights in the Southern Hemisphere and call it a night.  A very long night.

Of course I’m being silly.  There is a touch of light-hearted craziness in everyone I have met down here.  It’s the that silliness that keeps them sane under very harsh conditions.  I didn’t always have my camera at just the right times to record all of this, but there was the girl who wore a rainbow colored tutu for the marathon.  The man from the Galley who wore a Hogwarts’s Sorting Hat, just cause he was bored.  The guys who regularly wear their neck gators atop their heads like floppy stove pipe hats.  Even my little skull cap.  It looks ridiculous, and I would never wear it in public in Denver, but I am never without it here.  And that makes me happy because that stupid little hat means my ears will be making it home to Denver with the rest of me.

See you tomorrow.

Tim

Happy Valentines Day! 16′ WC 3′ 15mph sustained winds

It snowed today on Feb 14th.   I did what shoveling needed to be done here, which is very little because the wind just moves it where it wants it and you can’t do a thing about it.

I bet it snowed across most of the Eastern seaboard, stateside.  But hopefully not at all in Denver.  Shoveling the driveway is my job back at the house.  I have been keenly aware of the weather reports in the last few weeks, knowing that I have left a lot of my responsibilities to my lovely wife at home while I am down here.

There are moments of genuine regret that make me shiver worse than anything the Antarctic cold has thrown at me here.  There is a profound sense of loss… no, absence in this beautiful place.  These sweeping vistas and joyful penguins and laughing, happy new friends can never fill the void that is my love for my Jenny.

I thank her for her confidence in me to do this wonderful thing.  I thank her for supporting me in the multitude of applications and physicals and interviews and background checks that opened her up to scrutiny as well.   I recognize her strength as a person, and I realize I didn’t leave a thing that she could not handle on her own.

I sometimes wish I had never left her side for that very reason.  She doesn’t need me.  She loves me.  And that makes this the best and the worst Valentines Day ever.  It will clearly rank as the most memorable.  Simply because if I can help it, we will never be apart on this date again.

Happy Valentines day to all of you who are reading this.  Remember to tell the ones you love just how important they are to you.   It’ll make you feel great.  I promise.

Jenny!  Happy Valentines Day my love.♥

Tim

 

 

Feb. 12, 2014 26′ WC13′

The exodus begins.

There are a large number of flights scheduled  for people moving off continent now.  Most of the military presence, like the Nav Chaps and the Kiwi Army regulars are already gone.  Some of those who remain will continue through the winter.  We are seeing more and more people return from their summer research centers.  South Pole, Wissard, WAIS, CRESIS, any of the other locations that are inland from McMurdo are now done for the season, having closed up shop and secured their equipment before the winter winds made getting back to McMurdo treacherous.

Currently at McM, we  have an Italian crews from one of their research locations, before they return North.  Since I don’t speak Italian I haven’t a clue what they are up to, but they seem very happy to be here, warm, safe and dry.  They may not particularly like the food we are serving, but they are eating with gusto.  Probably because it is the first time they have not had to cook for themselves all season.  I can only imagine the conversation they are having about what restaurants they will hit when they finally get home.  I can see it in their gestures.  I can hear it in their tone.  I am beginning to have that same conversation with all of the people I sit down with at my own lunch table.

The inevitable end of season blues have hit us all squarely in the taste buds.

All Hail the Glorious Galley crew for their efforts at feeding and appeasing the rest of us hungry ice monkeys.  Your ability to make the same basic recipes taste varied and exciting is commendable.  The meats that fall off the bone.  The Eggs cooked to order.  Bacon done from soggy to scorched, because we all love bacon, just never all the same way. The fish and seafood -that this Mountain boy is scarfing up at every opportunity – never fails to satisfy.  Even the canned veggies…we know they are canned or frozen…yet always there are sauces with variety I would never take the time to make at home.   And the vegetarian dishes must be the hardest of all to prepare.  Such limited resources available to you Galley Chefs, yet every time I see the platters empty and your names are cheered.  Oh, boy do you guys and girls deserve Kudos.

I have to mention the deserts for two reasons:

1)  They are remarkable for their simple great taste.  Bread puddings, and fudgy brownies.  Pies of all the best fruit flavors.   Muffins and cupcakes of exceptional moistness.  And Cheese cakes that New Yorkers were raving about.  Yum!  I completely understand why making toll house and peanut butter cookies must get old and tiresome after a month or so.  It is probably best that you only make cookies for the masses one day each week.  But really, the muffins made with coffee flavors are going a little over the top.  Of course that could just be my uneducated pallet.

2) And their frequently bizarre creativity.  I had a friend grab a muffin for me when she went back to grab desert for herself.  When she set it down in front of me, it had a small stick of Trident chewing gum stuck in the icing.  I was embarrassed thinking it was a subtle message from her.  I didn’t know what to say except  “Thank you, wow, look at the time…I gotta go”  As I was leaving the Galley I saw that there was gum and other candies stuck into the icing of all the cup cakes and I burst out laughing.  I was too relieved to notice the rest of the diners staring at my sudden hysteria.

Creative is good.  But whoever thought that mixing Sriracha hot sauce in the Frosty Boy ice cream machine should be shot!

Tim