My goodness! Has a week gone by already?! Where did it go?! How can it be that
the days are so long, so very long that this morning feels at least two months
ago, but the weeks are so short? Answer me that, o riddle master. The days,
well, they are years, they are a whole lifetime and a blink. Maybe it’s because
we work eleven hour days, fairly long by most people’s standards, but it’s still
light outside so your mind at the end of the day is saying "take me outside
to play, look it’s still daytime, we have hours before bed!” while your body
is saying “nooo, not more, I’ve been out there all day, where were you then,
o off-with-the-fairies playmate of mine?!” And so it goes on. Sometimes one
wins, othertimes the other. Tonight, I think it shall be early to bed. But then,
I say that every night…
Yesterday was a Sunday, our day off, and I slept all day. Well, most of
it, and then went outside to see friends here kite-surfing. What a
wonderful sport that is! So silent! so fast! Whoooosh, like the wind.
Pulled along at great speeds while your feet are bound to skis or a
snowboard. They look so graceful, it looks so natural.
Have you ever tried surfing (in the sea)? I did once. All I remember is feeling
like I was inside a washing machine that was stuck on the spin cycle. Occasionally
allowed to gasp for air before another horrific onslaught of eddies removed my
sense of gravity and orientation entirely.
Kitesurfing is not that different. It’s wonderful, believe you me, when
the wind picks up the kite. It’s exhilarating when you get pulled along
faster than a skidoo, it’s predictable that you will soon be flat on
your face. Again. But the snow is soft and the day is long so I came
home a bit soggy, a little bruised, very windswept but with a big grin
across my face.
Last Sunday we went on a trip to visit a nearby emperor penguin colony. The chicks
were hip height but still fluffy. Bizarre proportions. The parents, so sleek and
slender didn’t fit in really. The entire bay was made up of strange formations
of snow and ice. Like stalactites or stalacmites (whichever are the ones that
grow upwards?). How did they form? The wind? The sea? The salt? The antarctic
katabatics? No, of course not. Penguin poo. What else?!
Without being too graphic, snow is white and reflects sunlight exceedingly well.
Anything darker than snow absorbs light and heat… and so melts the snow underneath.
At one point there were 10,000 penguins in this not overly-large bay so do the
mental imagery for yourself…. however it formed, the final effect was surreal.
And this is what you have: waist high formations of ice (or rather waste deep
melting spots, but anyway…), hip high baby penguins, adults of the same size
but looking out of place, and to top it all off, head height humans in dayglo
polar gear dangling multiple cameras within reaching distance of the lot. The
penguins seemed much less bothered by us than we, them. It was actually quite
sad too as the stronger chicks had already left for the sea and many of these
that were left will probably never make it. But they had such strong characters!
They huddled in creches of about 10 chicks per adult and made the most extraordinary
coo-ing call that is individual to each and the way that parents find their kids.
These parents aren’t returning now though,- it’s up to the chicks to shed their
fluff and seek out fish. It was all very odd and then we left.
But that’s not what people have been writing to me about. Jim asks: “How are the
living accomodations, food, people, wildlife, weather, your work etc.”, Vanessa
asks why I’m digging a big hole anyway, Steve, of course, wants to know about
sewage and fresh fruit (not related), Kirsten wants to hear about the ‘humdrum’,
Toni the community and when the ship will be returning and Chris, bless him, asked
about the view from my window.
The best news is that I now have a window! Until last week I was living
in a windowless room that wasn’t conducive to much except sleeping. Now,
Mandy and I have a wonderful bright north facing window that brings us
much joy every time we walk through the door. The view is of the sky and
the snow but also of a few buildings, a handline and the vehicles, all
lined up in a row (at night time). Bulldozers and snowcats and skidoos
and cranes. Lots and lots of big toys that we all love. This is the
biggest playground in the world! The weather has not been that cold,
hovering around freezing or a bit below. When it’s calm, it’s beautiful,
not more than a couple of warm layers needed. When the wind picks up
however, it can bite. But it’s a fresh bite. The air so clean. And the
water! the water we drink and wash in and cook with and make ice from
(!I know, odd!) tastes so…well…so pure! This week I’m on melt-tank
duty which means that at 6:45pm every evening I go out to the melt tank
with three others and shovel snow down some pipes for about 20-30
minutes until it is full. The same happens in the morning (a different
four people) and from this little act we have sufficient water for all
the washing machines, kitchen requirements, bathroom and drinking needs
for 40 people. Not bad, eh?! I love the showers. They are brief, but to
be bathed in fresh antarctic snowmelt….
From there I don’t feel I should move to sewage although I guess it’s
all plumbing….let it just be said that it either gets combusted or
poured into the ground to form a great big frozen mass. This is
hopefully changing in the future.
Fruit we do still have, most notably apples, pears and oranges. They
haven’t been frozen, just carefully wrapped in paper and stored in a
coolroom on both the ship and base. Stay amazingly fresh. I remember a
similar method happening in Nepal when the apples lasted for months if
they were buried deep in the earth where it was cool. More fruit will be
arriving on the ship in a couple of weeks so we are encouraged to help
ourselves to as much as we like which is fantastic.
The people and community are still a lot of fun. Everyone’s working
hard so it’s no more the party atmosphere that was on the ship…but
everyone wants to be working hard and working here so there’s a certain
joy and helpfulness that I don’t think you get on your average
construction site. Even the grumpy old gits, whose character it is to be
a grumpy old git, wink at the end of a grumble.
The ship has just left the Falklands again and is due back here in a couple of
weeks. After relief #2, she sails off for a science cruise for two weeks and then
picks those of us up who aren’t staying for the winter at the end of February.
I believe that I am due to be back in the land of roads, trees and nights mid-March
I’m losing the plot, the flow has petered, my tired body is asking for rest and
the daylight outside can’t be hidden from my mind’s eye for much longer. For now,
I leave you for another week or so, to my daydreams, to the wonder of ice and
beautiful skies. Search out a star for me tonight.