My First Antarctic Winter/Over, McMurdo, AQ

1988-1989



  LETTERS FROM ANTARCTICA

...in the Ross Island Dependency, August 1988

                             PAGE TEN

August is the month of sunrise; we all have been looking forward to that. August, into September, is also the time of the coldest temperatures of the year and the time of Winfly, when the first planes land since February. August is a time of happenings not the least of which is Spring Fever and Short Time and new cold germs brought to us along with the mail. Sunrise was postponed for two days due to snow, drifting and blowing and reducing visibility enough so that one could not see to drive and it became necessary to use the yellow safety lines between the buildings to get to and from the mess. Even the Sunrise Swim and Cookout Dinner were postponed. A month from today will be the Vernal Equinox, twelve hours of sun. We will gain twenty-four minutes of sun per day between now and then. It's kind of amazing...

I am looking forward to watching the ice melt.

Alan, ZL5BKM, over at Scott Base told me at the Sunrise Party that he had talked to Charlie, W1LQQ. It was good to hear that New Hampshire is still on the air. I have not talked to anyone from there for such a long time.

Well, most of New Hampshire that is. This afternoon just as I was closing the MARS net with Rick, NNN0GKF, after doing several patches and a few MARSgrammes, a cryptic message arrived that said "Al go to 320" It took a couple of repeats for it to sink in. I was hungry for dinner and the sun was somewhere out there not waiting for me to come and have my first look since she set in February. I don't know how he did it but the message was from Charlie and I went up to 320 to meet him. Good to talk to you Charlie but I am sorry about the news you had for me. Nick, W1DXR, was the last of the old time low frequency Hams in Gorham; I guess we got to rename the place Gor... Nick was a crusty old sonofabitch and I will miss his acerbic wit and explosive HA! Not to mention his kindness and keen eye for detail when it came to helping me solve the communications problems of the Observatory.

The last of the Evaporated Milk that Mark sent went into this mornings coffee and I got to thinking about the food things that I miss. I have been thinking about things like that lately; does that mean I long to leave and just won't admit it? I miss Trees and Rivers and the People I love but I started thinking about food when I read Ben Franklin's Autobiography last week. Ben was a person who ate to live and gave little thought to what he ate. He didn't need to be as careful as one might today; I wonder how he would characterise the plasticity of modern foods? The lack of freshies is the single greatest hole in my diet; the two varieties of three-bean-salad have become a staple along with French Fries and various soups. It all becomes a tasteless, mindless blur, purposefully done so as to relieve the monotony by covering it with a dream world. But with some things it doesn't work.

I can ignore three-bean-salad and I can day-dream my way through what passes for baked fish, but I look forward to visiting a market at home with boundless delight and bottomless dread. I will need somebody to restrain me I'm sure. Fresh squeez'd Orange Juice (I'll settle for Tropicana) is at the top of my list; a quart before I get back to the check-out line should calm me enough to get on with the rest of the shopping. The ice cream we get here is sickly sweet and so old it's chewy; B&J's Coffee will be next on my list. The frozen yogurt is somewhat better but hardly worth bothering with and it comes in two flavours only, yellow and red. Then we'll get on to the Pickled Herring, in Wine Sauce; cheese that hasn't been frozen first, especially cream cheese, or for that matter any cheese that isn't yellow. The wheel of cheddar that Mark sent is all but gone and am fighting a losing battle with the mold to stretch the last of it only another few days. And then of course there is the lettuce; let us not forget the lettuce, but by then I am sure the edge will be gone from that desire; we will get some lettuce in before I leave. In all seriousness, please do not send anything of this sort. Except for cheese nothing requiring refrigeration will survive the trip. The pineapple in Mark's wonderful care package was crush'd and rot'd and clawing its way out of the box.

Well enough of this rambling. The first plane of Winfly should land today, I need to brace my self against the onslaught of germs, see if I can find a mild cold to start with and then I can go to bed with a case of Spring Fever and enjoy it somewhat...

Wednesday 24 August... The first plane landed yesterday more or less on schedule but with one of its four engines bad. I don't know what bad meant, someone in the control tower, where I was working on the last minute installation of yet another telephone, said one prop was feathered. All four of them were spinning ok. In any case they refuel'd and took off without any of the  passengers or cargo scheduled to go. About six hours later we had the first mail call since Airdrop and I received seven items of junk mail, two magazines, and one letter. I suppose I should be content; the guy next door got only two letters so I shared my junk mail with him. But there is supposed to be more mail coming so perhaps I will yet find news of home and family.

Today is like a long ago Christmas Eve I remember at the Mizpah Hut. But where IS my family?? The worst part of this adventure is not getting any mail from the people I expect it from. Keith, the Station Senior Science Leader and peer group hippy and Harley rider from the sixties, says "It just doesn't matter..." And he's right you know. It really doesn't matter, anymore. Maybe that means I am finally growing up; God I hope not. But after years of idealistic caring about everything and trying to do my best (isn't that something we learnt in Scouts?) I find it just doesn't matter, I don't care anymore, it is a waste of my life to do my best because I am the only one who knows and I don't care anymore. I wonder if it ever did matter...

What's shaking? I am. Convulsed with orgasmic delirium over this dawning knowledge that threatens to engulf the ideals I learn'd in the Order of the Arrow... Honour... Best... Its strange what this isolation does to ones mind. Even with the closeness of community as it is here I am very isolated from the ones I left behind. Relationships have changed. Nothing can be the same when and if I come back. The broad base of what I loosely called home is broader still and I have considered staying here, in NZ and back to the Ice. There is a lot of money to be made here and an easy life in NZ where the dollar goes 60% further.

I am sorry you have a cold. That too is one of the things I almost miss. Everyone is so damn healthy here. We should get some cold germs in on the next plane. I hope there will be enough to go around. I am looking forward to a good dose of Spring Fever and a runny nose for a while. Give me a chance to lie around and bask in the UV leaking through the hole in the Ozone. I am as pale as a ghost, even my freckles have faded away.

I am thinking I could stand it for a while... summer here then summer home on unemployment...

The Bullshit here is bad too. I knew that before I came and figured it couldn't be any worse than at the OBs. That job prepared me well for this one. There is so much politics. But, it really doesn't matter. You just sit back and let it wash over you. Though it is too bad for some of the craftsmen here who know that the things they build are only going to be ripped out and changed. Some stuff gets finished only so the Contractor can show NSF a job complete and then it gets ripped out and rebuilt without ever being used. That is sad but if you complain your job is at risk. Still there are some ways one can take advantage of the situation and have a good time.

Someday I would like to go back to the OBs for a while. I hear it is becoming more like the old days with lots of part time help and no stable long term croo.

I miss the wicked hot days. I long to get on my MC and ride in the hot wind and skinny dip in the Saco. The weather here is wimpy and the Navy runs scared whenever it gets the least bit interesting. Sunrise has happened and in another day or three we should get some rays into the downtown area.

Twenty-eight August, the Winfly week is over but there are still three planes to come in so it really isn't. I hear tell that Winfly has in the past gone into September, and one entry in the "Last Plane Pool" has a dollar on September second. The weather was bad enough Saturday to stop work, but not the partying; I drove to Scott Base in Condition One. Took most of half an hour to make the ten minute trip. When I left there was a cook-out going on behind the Acey-Deucy.

But the big event of the day was the arrival of the SUN! It was around 1500 hours when a voice came out of my radio "The Sun is at Hut Point!" Suddenly a mass exodus was underway. Trucks, idling for days awaiting this moment, were quickly filled with hollow-eyed zombies as the tanned FNGs just off the last plane from CHC stood around uncomprehending.

In the Summer, penguins play on the rocks at Hut Point, today people hugged and danced and did cart wheels in the snow, bathed in the light of a Solar Orb we hadn't seen since back in April. No one brought champagne, only one had a camera, but we all sat there and stared at the light and the pretty clouds until, drunk and overexposed, we staggered back to the trucks and drove crazily through town to our jobs.

The last plane came and went and there was only one card from someone I talked to only once on the radio. It is interesting to me that my bitterness and sadness overwhelms my thanks and I hasten to direct those feelings away from any one person, conjuring up visions of mail lost along the way or returned for want of more postage or a better address; I will talk to the shrink about that. As I close out this letter and September starts, a MARSgramm arrives and I am thankful for that bit of news.

30

This letter is COPYRIGHT by Alfred J. Oxton, 1988-2009, McMurdo Station, Ross Island, Antarctica.

No portion may be reproduced by any means without my express written permission.


 A.J.Oxton, OA, OO, OAE,  k1oIq

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