Thursday, June 21, 2018

Weekly snapshot #17

It's not just me with my comparisons to Pole--people who have spent many winters here have been talking about how weirdly mild this winter has been. Except for a few times when I knew I was going to be outside for a prolonged period, going from building to building around here is a casual affair--I just put on my light boots and a parka and hat, much like I'd do in a Wisconsin winter. None of the five-minute head-to-toe-coverage prep involved in venturing outside at Pole. Kind of crazy. The wind will get ya with grit in the eyes if you don't keep your goggles handy, but that's easy done. And if I'm jinxing myself by calling this McMurdo winter Wimpy--and I am!'s been a Wimpy winter so far!--so be it, because I'm still itching to experience a true Antarctic storm, which so far we definitely haven't. A few days ago the temp dropped to something like -25F but I was shocked to see that temp because it definitely didn't feel that cold out. And the next day it reached +9F. Today's much the same. Just odd. At least the sun is staying below the horizon, as expected since we've just marked the winter solstice. It doesn't get darker than this, friends....

Monday, June 18, 2018

Fire! Fire! Fire!

McMurdo is the largest base on Antarctica, is the SAR (Search and Rescue) center for the continent, and has a full fire department staffed by eleven full-time, professional fire-fighters even in the wintertime. Before I came to Antarctica, I hadn't really considered fire-prevention as a significant element of life here...I thought of cold and snow and no vegetation, so didn't really imagine fire as a real threat. But actually, fire is a HUGE deal here because we are so dependent upon secure, heated infrastructure for our survival.

So a couple weeks ago our company safety meeting was on fire prevention and using extinguishers. And then last week the wind died down enough for us to do an extinguisher practice session. It was odd to see anyone, much less firefighters, purposefully lighting a diesel gas fire for us to practice on, but that's what they did. I think that might actually have been the first time I've ever used a fire extinguisher, which seems odd. It was a fun exercise, though, and some people (who are otherwise prone to being dramatic, ahem) got REALLY into it.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Weekly snapshot #16

I said I was going to play around with nighttime settings on my camera and try to get a clearer snapshot this week...and I didn't! My excuse is that my brain and will are functioning at less-than-full capacity as we swiftly approach the mid-winter mark. We're all having a harder time than usual coming up with words, understanding each other, and remembering what it was we were just about to do. Best to just embrace the craziness. So here's a super-fuzzy photo for you! By the way, I keep meaning to mention that the bright orb in all these pics (which you've probably figured out, since it always looks the same and is always in the same place) is a streetlight, not the moon...

Monday, June 11, 2018

Science Fair

A few weeks ago we held a science fair at McMurdo, which was probably one of the less geeky science fairs ever conducted. Also, one of the least scientific. First, it was held in the bar. Second, it featured posters less sophisticated than those probably made by current-day third graders, and these were all made by grown adults.

Third, the topics were ridiculous. I was recruited to do a poster, which I initially dismissed as a possibility, until I was told that at the last science fair at McMurdo, one of the projects was called "Why is Ben Affleck Sad?" and consisted of nothing except a poster collage of pictures of Ben Affleck looking sad. Once I heard that, I thought: Okay, I can do this.

I upped that game a little bit and did a faux statistical study of the loitering behavior of McMurdoans and the station store. A topic with which I am very familiar. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I've actively encouraged a loitering culture at the store here, because it makes my job way more interesting and fun. And it's taken on a life of it's own for sure. There's one woman down here who sits in one particular chair near the register for the entirety of nearly every store shift, to the extent that when she's not there people ask me where she is with genuine concern, and other times people will try to beat her to the store and take that chair just to see what she'll do. (Note: What she does is literally drag and throw the interloper out of the chair. It's a sight.) So there was a question on the survey about the owner of that chair. A question about why people loiter, another about whether as loiterers they judge customers' purchases, a question about whether anyone has a crush on a fellow loiterer, and so on. And then I put it all together in a poster that may not have been the most scientific of the fair, but which was definitely the most colorful.

All in all it was such a fun night, a combination of silly and serious. Other projects looked at how many people knew each other on station and whose social circles overlapped the most, what names were most common on station, whether employee retention was greater when dishwashers and janitors were a combined job rather than two separate roles, and so on.

We even had a demo of making sorbet using liquid nitrogen. It was tasty!

I didn't imagine that a Science Fair would end up being such a fun event here, but it truly was.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Weekly snapshot #15

I'm running a few hours late with this week's snapshot, but let's be honest: it doesn't matter. It's just as cold and dark out as it was at noon today. :) But all is very well over here! I was actually shocked to see that it's -9F out. Feels much warmer. Or my blood is just way thickening....

Monday, June 4, 2018

Castle Rock Loop

McMurdo's Berg Field Center outfits all field camps with the gear they need to survive Antarctic conditions in the summertime. In the winter, just a few hearty BFC'ers stay behind to sort, clean, inventory, and repair all the gear that got used and abused during the rush of the summer season. Plus, this winter team is responsible for maintaining the couple of recreational trails that remain open in wintertime. Knowing this, I asked them if I could go along next time they had to do a maintenance trip around Castle Rock loop, the longest rec trail you can reach by foot from McMurdo town. They kindly scheduled their next trip for that on a Monday (my day off), and I was thrilled to get to go along.

We loaded up a Piston Bully with survival bags, replacement trail flags, and other equipment for fixing old or planting new flags...

...and off we went, in early afternoon, with a full moon rising.

You can still see a faint glow of the sun on that horizon to the left, which is amazing to me. But mostly it was us feeling tough in our red BFC jump suits, walking along the flag line in the mid-winter darkness.

The weather's been so mild the past couple months, there weren't many flags down along the trail, but we did re-set or replace maybe a half-dozen of them, by the headlights of the Piston Bully.

We also opened and inspected the "apples"--the survival pods placed along the trail--and dug out the snow that had managed to blow into them through the imperfect seals on their doors.

I've never been on Castle Rock Loop trail before this (and in the darkness wasn't able to take pictures of Castle Rock itself, with Mount Erebus looming behind it, though we could see the lovely outlines of the scene by eye) and will have to make sure to walk back out there some day toward the end of my time here to see it all in the sunshine. For now, I was really happy for the Piston Bully, as even though I didn't even do much physical work at all, I was DARN cold and tired after three hours out in even these mild-ish winter conditions. Such a fun adventure, though!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Weekly snapshot #14

These photos might be getting a little monotonous! Sorry! And next week I need to play around with the camera settings on my phone to get a better nighttime shot. But for now, it's kind of same-old-same-old with the days now dark dark dark and the temps still shockingly mild for wintertime in Antarctica. I'm getting super-spoiled, for sure....

Monday, May 28, 2018

Cross-country ski

As promised last week, here are some (not great; it was dark out!) pictures of the cross-country ski trip I got to take one evening recently. Most of my pictures just look like this. Dark. :)

But the wonderful Rec Coordinator friend who arranged the trip took a long exposure shot of the four of us who were skiing that is much better. (I'm in the purple coat.)

And of course, as always, the most fun pictures of any outdoor activity in Antarctica are those of the icicles that have accumulated on people's eyelashes while they've been outside...

I've actually gotten to do another fun outdoor adventure in the meantime, so stay tuned for those pictures soon, and in the meantime, I hope you're enjoying a sun-drenched summer where you are! 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Weekly snapshot #13

There seemed to be even some snow flurries going on when I stepped outside a couple hours ago to take today's noontime snapshot. I was surprised after to see that it's -4F. It still feels so oddly warm out here to me. Everyone keeps promising me this won't last and that it's weirdly nice out, but...

Monday, May 21, 2018

Lately, at McMurdo...

One really nice thing about the population here being so much larger than at Pole in the winter is that there are enough people to plan recreational events that there is always something fun and wacky going on. Friday night, a couple of creative souls decked out the big gym with amazing lighting, a smoke machine, and great music for a dodgeball/dance party. Some participants raided the impressive stores of strange costumes on base and came fully wigged- and discoed-out. The result was an eerily fantastic mood for fun night.

And then on Sunday night, a bunch of people performed a live-read of the screenplay of Jurassic Park. I failed to get a picture of my favorite part (the winter Research Associate playing a cute-looking dino who attacks and kills the fool who does not take her seriously) because I was laughing way too hard.

And then, and then! LAST night I went cross-country skiing...but I need to gather some pics from other people so that will have to be next week's post.