I’ll bet you’ve noticed the complete lack of penguins since I started this blog. Heck, those cute little dudes are, often as not, the reason some people come down here. While it is against the Antarctic Treaty to get too close to them, it is permissible to go out and take pictures of them. The rule is that if you get close enough to change their behavior or draw their attention, you must back away. Easy enough. The hard part is finding them. We have had sightings between base and the airport, but it was a single bird who was mostly inactive. When they are molting feathers, they get pretty lazy; or so I’m told, since I still haven’t even seen one . And yet…
PENGUINS were spotted at Scott’s Hut point yesterday afternoon. I was really hoping they would be here because my lovely Jenny has said repeatedly that I have to get photos of Penguins or I have to Winter-over to get them next summer. I’m not like’n that idea. I’ve already started sewing a penguin costume in the crafts room as a fail safe. Then yesterday my roommate called me at about 5:30pm saying that at least 3 of the tuxedo class were spotted during the day shift over by where he works. Good tidings I say!
I made a point to dress for the weather today, rather than dress for the workplace as I have done for the last 3 weeks. I packed the camera and extra food, with the intention of walking down to the point during my lunch break. Which I did at midnight McMurdo time. The sun before me was low on the horizon and the wind was encouraging my back as I walked the 3/4 of a mile from my office out to Scott’s Hut. I pulled my collar up to block the chill, and switched to my arctic sunglasses with the leather eye-cups. I was good to go. I rounded Scott’s Hut and ambled gently out to the ridge that looks down on the water and saw…nothing. Lots of ice, water, and a quiet that makes even my tinnitus go away. But not a bird in sight. SIGH!
I did notice that the water line against the shore reached out as much as thirty feet in some places, and was a consistent depth all along the shore. That bodes well for the success of our vessel landing in an open harbor in the next few weeks. I also found out earlier today that the Russian science vessel, and the Chinese ice breaker have both worked themselves free – into open water. Hurrah! That allows the US ice breaker to resume it’s original course down to McMurdo to open our landing dock for our supply vessel to arrive on time. With all of this good news to comfort me in the absence of penguins, I turned for home. Straight into the teeth of the wind that got me over to Scott base in such anticipatory haste.
Almost immediately the cranky cold grabbed me by the throat, the only part of me that wasn’t covered. I ducked my chin and kept my head down to cover my exposed skin. Thinking quickly about the extra clothing I had packed that morning, I headed to the downwind side of Scott’s Hut. As soon as I was out of the blow I felt warm again. The sun, even at such a low angle was brilliant and warm. I dropped my backpack on the dirt and off came my heavy jacket. I was smarter even than I thought. I had a hoody sweater, nylon glove liners, and earmuffs in the backpack. On they went. I put my heavy Carhart back on and rummaged through the pockets to find my leather work gloves and my odd little skullcap with earflaps. And glad I was to look ridiculous. Everybody knows, or should know, that almost 30% of your body heat can be lost when your head is not covered. And against a headwind from the South Pole I needed all the help I could get. I’m pretty sure that my camera was the only thing left in my backpack when I screwed up the courage to head back to base.
Oh sure, I already told you it was 3/4 of a mile out to Scott’s Hut, but it felt like 34 miles on the way in . I went on-line to the McMurdo Base homepage to check the weather when I made it back to work. It was 22′, WC 9′. Maybe not as bad as Fargo, ND. but I betcha no one in Fargo went out for a stroll on the beach today either! If they had, I hope they at least got to see some penguins.