Yes, I skipped a day: My apologies, but I took a walk around camp since the weather was fantastic. The temperature was near 37 degrees when I got off work and there was almost no wind. I must have put on at least three miles, and that is a lot considering the small size of this place. You can easily stroll from one end to the other in less than an hour, although that doesn’t include some of the outlying fuel tanks or satellite and radio towers. We regular Joes don’t have much need to go there, and some of the best views are much closer to the dorms anyway.
The camp itself sits upon a ledge about 100 feet or so above the waterline. But you can’t really call it that since it is currently an ice shelf. A long and well maintained dirt road leads down to a small port of sorts. At this point in the Antarctic summer the sun is fully overhead for all 24 hours a day. All of the roads are clear and the surrounding rocks are exposed and invite the sunshine to melt off the snowpack all around the camp. Though the temperature hovers at or near freezing, there is a constant flow of run-off coming down the mountains that surround us, and this too helps to thaw the ice shelf with the additional warm waters. From the raised area above the port, the view across the Ice is stunning. I stood beside the chapel for about half an hour yesterday trying to figure the distance to the mountain rage across the way. Even with the long range lens on my camera fully extended, the mountains are far in the distance.
I simply must get the photos on line. It really is impressive, and no amount of verbiage can accurately describe what I see here. I don’t mind telling you that I was keenly disappointed that I would not be working at the South Pole Station itself. That was my initial goal in applying for this NSF position. I had so hoped to be able to say I have been somewhere that very few people have ever been. What I have found here at McMurdo is a very different reality of black and white and blue. The endless skyline. The enormity of space with only the contours of the mountains in the distance to give any perspective at all. But at least there is that scraggly and dark outline. It is that hint of something out there that triggers the imagination to go there and see it. To measure and scale and explore it. It is the desire to attain what is on the far side that makes it worth it to pass through all of this nothingness to get there. And I find it most appealing that I am in the one place on earth that has civility but no Starbucks.
Through out January, before the sun begins to raise back up to the equator, we will have a continued warming of the waters near our McMurdo Bay landing facility. We will bring in ice breakers to clear the way, and then the container ship will arrive with all of the provisions for the coming winter season. This will be the start of my reason to be here. I am truly fortunate to arrive at midseason. The workload is constant, but not hurried. I have good people around me who understand how difficult this antiquated warehousing system is, and have the time at this point, to work with me to learn it. I can’t really go into details about how it works, but it is based on the old military – 3P model – of procurement, placement and pray to God you find it when you need it. Of course I’m kidding. The significant difference here in Antarctica is the pencil. The weather is quite nice right now, and I am taking advantage of that. But it is all downhill from here. The temperature will get colder, the winds stronger, and the daylight shorter. There are no mechanical scanners, or bar code readers to assist in this warehouse. It becomes too cold for even a pen to have flowing ink. We use magic markers to label every box, bag and carton, and we use pencils for all of the paperwork to note where we place the goods. That’s on my level. When I turn in my paperwork, it goes through a QC process by my boss, and is turned over to the lucky people in the office to do the data inputs onto computer.
Those brave souls who are willing to stay on base for the succeeding 8 months of relative isolation will be well supplied, I assure you. Thank God for the internet, satellite television and a deck of cards when the winds kill the other two.
More to come. Tim