This was a good day.
I reported to work at 7:30 am as usual, and was immediately told to go home. The boss was smiling and cracking up when she said “I told you to read the calendar!” She was right of course, I did know that my transition to night shift began today, but I was sorta hoping she wouldn’t notice, and I would be able to help out for one more day. You see my transition period covers a weekend, so I will get – in essence – three days off. Both my boss and my pall Fearless Amy will have to work by themselves for two days, while sit on my keester waiting till Tuesday afternoon to return to work. I have no doubt at all that Fearless and The Boss can handle it, but I like them. I want to be there. Besides, there are no good cartoons on the television here late at night. We get one station from Australia, and the rest is either All Forces Network, or movies chosen by committee, and repeated twice in the day.
So I went back to bed. That was nice. Totally unnecessary, but nice. Then I read the introduction to a book I found in the lounge. I knew I shouldn’t have, because once I start a book that doesn’t have pictures in it I seem to fall in. Any one out there know what The Apocryphal are? (Graduates of Regis, and Deans at St. Mary University – and you know who you are – hold you gobs). I never knew about the seven books excluded from the contemporary bible. They are all pieces of literature written by Jewish authors prior to Jesus Christ, but long after the major writings of the Old Testament were completed. They are basically books considered very important for their content, but not divinely inspired, and so didn’t meet the criteria for inclusion in the Big book. OK maybe too basic an explanation, but the intro to this book is longer than the book’s first story so I thought I better narrow it down.
That killed a couple of hours, but my heart wasn’t in it, and my head began to hurt. Not from guilt, plain and simple boredom. And even though I stayed up late writing yesterday’s blog, I found myself thinking about the many other stories here that I till have not told. Daisy picking leaps to mind. My wife thought that sounded like fun because she thought nothing grows here. That is true…I’ve said so myself. Things don’t grow, but some things do accumulate. Like trash. As careful as we try to be at keeping Antarctica pristine, there are days when the wind will whip something out of your hand, or whisk away the plastic wrap you have just cut off of a pallet of goods before you can step on it. Chasing it down is a responsibility, but I haven’t met anyone on the base who can out run a 40mph gust. Some things are unavoidable. We do the best we can, but there comes the need for a seasonal cleansing of the grounds. All hands on deck! This morning we clean.
Teams are established through-out the facility, not just near your office, but mostly downwind from where you work. In the nooks and crannies where yesterday’s shrink wrap came to rest. Bits of paper, packaging invoices, chunks of cardboard, and lots of nuts and bolts vibrated off of machinery. Broken wood from pallets. Pretty much anything that man has brought here, man has to take back with him. That is a part of the addendum to the Antarctic Treaty, as signed by the original 14 members nations. And any nation that has followed us onto the ice for research of their own must agree to the terms as well. Like a good camper in any of the US National forests, if you pack it in, you must pack it out. I suppose you could say, (and here is my sense of humor again), if you find anything on the shore that did not come out of a seal or a penguins tuckus, it goes into your bag and back to the base to be sorted and compacted for return to the US for processing. And we are quite good at it too. This last effort, scheduled for only two hours on a Saturday morning returned 2405 pounds of non-recyclable stuff, as well as 1420 pounds of wood waste. That is impressive to me. And we got the big “Thank You” from station management who were the first to recognize that we are understaffed this season.
Let me add one more story before I finish. In keeping with an earlier post I had written about the direct sunlight being so important to the overall temperature down here. I spied a huge piece of cardboard (3X5) lying underneath the aboveground fresh water ducts feeding into the base. I scrambled down the berm to get at it, and grabbed the corner and pulled.
And pulled. And pulled myself off balance and down under the piping with it. No injuries…and because no one was looking, no embarrassment either. The entire length and width of the cardboard was still firmly frozen to the ground beneath it. All around it was dark grey, dusty, bare earth, which drinks up the sunlight. But beneath the cardboard, which is a much lighter color, and highly reflective yellow brown, the ice did not melt. And the cardboard did not come off. I cut it into smaller size chunks and pealed them up one by one. I spent far more time under the pipes than I though I would have. No wonder no one else came after the piece. Below, you will find two photos that exemplify what I am talking about. Both are side views of the same stairway taken about a week apart. if you can increase the image on your computer and look at the details of the pictures you can see the ice has melted at a 60′ angle from upper left to lower right. Like I said, if the sun can’t reach it, it wont melt.
You can see that although the steps and the landing are vented steel, the angle of the sun can’t quite get past all of the metal and will only melt off the ice at an angle of direct exposure. Ambient temperature keeps the rest cold enough to prevent melting. This is a good reminder for those of us who work here that it is not as warm as it feels.