My First Antarctic Winter/Over, McMurdo, AQ




Some of you have undoubtedly seen parts of this letter already and maybe even more than once. The beginning of it has been around for a while now, since late January I think, and I am adding this preface of sorts in late February. But not everyone has seen all of it, there is new stuff at the bottom. You might want to read this one backwards.

I have been here a month now for what ever significance that holds; it is time to take stock of my Self and all that that includes. While I was on the Snowcraft/Survival school earlier this week I found my self tied into a rope with several others being led ever higher on to the Crystal Glacier. As we reached the leading edge of the ice-fall where deep crevasses form as great bergs break away on their inexorable journey to the sea my Self was else where, looking on from a distance, as it were, at how this day-hike was so like the past few months, or even years, of my life in general. We worked our way up, learning how to tell where the crevasses were, how to find the edges, to jump across or go around. Then, as we got to the point from which we would rappel, I pondered how alike this point was, where I would climb out over the edge, leaving behind my ice axe and my guide and instructor and hang by a thin rope attached to an anchor in the snow, to that point, long ago it seems now, where I left my friends and mentor behind to embark on this path into a different world. I did not want to be first nor did I wait until last; and when it was over I felt an ecstasy and enlightenment that I will not put in words. I wanted to go and do it again and again. Unlike the rappel down the ice face of Crystal Glacier, my time here will pass more slowly, yet it will be but a dot in my wanderings and I shall not know if I will return until I do.

What is black and white and red all over?

The GUS W. DARNELL offloaded more than six million gallons of fuel to the tank farm here. Included were DFA (diesel fuel arctic), MOGAS (gasoline for motor vehicles), JP4, and JP5. In the meantime preparations proceed for the arrival of the cargo ship GREEN WAVE last reported out in the Ross Sea doing four knots in heavy weather. Still sunny and warm here and the summer help from the inland stations are moving through at a steady pace on their way North. Several of my friends from New Hampshire have been among the tourists staying at the MacTown Hilton; it has been exciting to have dinner with these people I have not seen for a year or more.

The cargo ship is in port off-loading thousands of boxes and crates and containers and it has been snowing for most of the past two days. This place looks like Christmas with all the new things being delivered from the ship. There are several new snow tractors and trucks and a 17 passenger hovercraft.

I guess maybe I haven't talked much about the water system here in the other letters. There is a desalinisation plant here that pumps water from the ocean and provides 80,000 gallons a day. The water is distributed throughout the community through heated, insulated pipes to the various buildings.

Yes, we have hot showers and dish washers and flush toilets. Then all the effluent flows along through more heated pipes to a place a little ways down the coast and pours back into the ocean.

One of my correspondents writes in a letter dated 26 Jan...

"What else can I say that will last for five months? There's so much more I want to add to this box but really can't. Material things are weak substitutes for thoughts and feelings.

"Keep in mind that to qualify as a true "adventure" the adventurer (hobbits, et al) soon finds the novelty and excitement of the "beginning" wears off. Then there are periods of danger, darkness, tedium, boredom, etc. glued together with loneliness. The greater the depths of these is directly proportional to the greatness of the adventure and ensuing growth of the adventurer."

I am waiting for sun set. Imagine, a sunset that one must wait days for, that lasts for weeks, with instant replays and then the dark... It is, and will be, like another world, where even the very days march to a different drummer. I thought I would be able to visualize the appearance of the sky but it is harder than that. I have not seen the night sky for such a long time. Orion will be standing on his head!

Classic DJ at The BoardI do very much miss the news and contact with the friends I have left behind. I am fitting into this community slowly; as I let myself give up what I have lost and take on what is here to be acquired. I have volunteered to do a classical music programme on KICE a couple of times a week and I am thinking of a reading aloud type of programme.

Now, the food is ok, at least there is plenty of it. Too much salt, sugar and salt-peter though and not enough freshies to survive as a veggie. I don't know how Albie managed, I can't seem to. And no GOOD beer either. No Moosebreath, no Heineken... just Bud and Mich; you must go to the Kiwi base across the pass to get a DB. We have shuttles that make the trip every hour.

Greenpeace is down here. Have you seen any of that on the news? They are raising hell as only they can do and the gossip around here is that if you talk to any of them it will cost you your job. Although I have not seen any official word to that effect I do know of sympathizers who have left when their contract was up rather than stay till their job was done if you get my meaning there.

I have just returned from a whale watching hike to Hut Point. No whales. I took my kite for a walk and it flew a little ways but it is so hard with mittens on and a runny nose and tripping over penguins.

Speaking of penguins... You really must get one of these. Look in a Book Store at the Mall for: MOM QUEST - OPUS GOES HOME, Bloom County Calendar for 1988 by Berke Breathed. Its got some really great Penguin pictures.

Today is Thursday. The Greenpeace ship came into the harbour today. A couple of days ago we knew it was in the area. I had heard all sorts of chatter on the radio and all the winter-over people were called to a meeting where the BIG boss told us how we must not let these people into any of our buildings nor let them buy anything at the ships store nor eat in the galley nor visit our rooms. Nor could we send any messages for them. I went to visit their ship to see if they all had horns or rode about on brooms but they are real people trying to do a job and I don't really understand why NSF is so scared of them. It all reminds me of the Salem Witch Hunts and the way the U.S. Government treated the American Indians in the 1800's.

Well, its not all that bad folks, actually the official policy is that we are not to give aid to any private group that may in any way assist them towards their goal. We can and will use every means available to effect a rescue should that be necessary but no help for any tourist groups or other private parties. Its too bad all this could not have been so fully explained ahead of time but it has taken several weeks and lots of high level meetings to hammer out the rules.

In the meantime it has been several weeks since I last wrote in here. The resupply ship has been and gone on its second trip and the Icebreaker Polar Star has left to escort it out to the ocean and will not be back till next year. Maybe before this letter is sent I will have lots of numbers to tell you of all the goodies it left behind. Right now it is sufficient to say that we have ICE CREAM! B&Js it ain't for sure but I haven't had ice cream since back at LAX. So long ago and far away...

Last week I made a day trip to Black Island, actually made two day trips a week apart. The last one was in the Coast Guard chopper. I have received lots of mail in the past few days; some of it I have scribbled out hasty answers, each time thinking if I hurry I might just make the last plane only to have the last plane delayed. Yesterday one turned back to CHCH with smoke in the cockpit and another turned around two and a half hours after leaving here with a bad engine.

All the skuas have left, there is no one to pick in the garbage now, and the sun has begun to set. It dips below the horizon between Mount Discovery and Black Island for a few hours around midnight and the sky lights up with all sorts of colour.

A package arrived from Rosemary Turner of music tapes and from the Schnellmann's of chocolate and from Dennis of a voice tape and his report card. Thank you all. I very much love the different kinds of schokolade you send Christoph and Susi; I often ration it so it will last the year even when shared with best friends so there will be none for the penguins or rhesus. Besides it is against the terms of the Antarctic Treaty to feed the animals.

The last of the incoming mail is here now until AIR-DROP and the deadline for that is early May. AIR-DROP will be the first good weather at the full moon in June. Sounds poetic, eh? We need the moonlight to find the parachutes. Any cookies should be well wrapped or they will be crumbed on arrival. No liquids. Except for what I will ask of Greg.

To comment on Linda's question regarding the article in Appalachia: All things considered, the size of the continent being one of them, there is really not that much impact. Of course, as with anything measured in degrees, it is a moot point. Further, the effluent from McMurdo is measured in BLUs, that is Blue Whale Units. It would take a lot of McMurdos to catch up with the whale population in the neighborhood. Then there are the last ditch catch-alls: it could be worse... it could be EXXON... Of course that doesn't satisfy the likes of Greenpeace and well it mightn't. We need Greenpeace here, its too bad they have to be such antagonists; itís too bad it takes NSF so long to do anything about the things that are recognized as real problems; its too bad their priorities are so screwed up. But! If the OZONE HOLE were over the middle latitudes instead of the polar areas there would be a lot of people dying from its effects. That it was found here first will give us time to study and find a fix if we can work together...

To Artie: Check with Dick Cook, he has all the long letters prior to this one that should answer about 873,261 of your questions. Dominoe's does not deliver to my room, only as far as the mess hall. Sunburn is a very real problem; what's worse though is sunburn on top of frost bite. Yes that is my bus, I hope you can sit still long enough to visit when I get back to it. At least another ten months.

This letter will come to you via some sort of electronic mail as there are no planes flying out of here till August at least. The letter goes from here by satellite to Santa Paula California then into a bulletin board someplace where Jeff Gilman will find it and mail it to you. Don't loose his address. If you want to reply, keep it short sort of, write plainly or type and send it to him. He will get all the letters together and send them to me about once a month.

Today is Sunday 28 Feb. Wow! Another whole month is gone. And so is the last plane. The mess hall was very quiet tonight at dinner. Tomorrow I will get started on my winter schedule of things to do. The days are getting colder faster now that the sun is down part of each day. I wonder if I should look forward to Penguindian summer here... Probly already happened and I slept through it.

Thanks for your card Sue and your reminder. I got a package out a couple of weeks ago but I'm sure it went by slow boat. Good to read you are all doing well. Tell Bryan to put the skis away in a safe place for the summer or to take them to the bus. He will outgrow that set during the summer so they might fit Dennis next winter.

To Peter: Just practice Peter. I am looking at it as a little vacation, a short break. I would like to go back again but, who knows. My cycle is for sale. Traded in on a new one which I will get when I return. Summer is gone here; winter coming. If you have any connexion with OMNET send me your ID and I will reply direct.

And for that matter, any of the rest of you who have connexions with OMNET likewise. Send your ID back through Jeff or get it to me otherwise but keep the letters less than 20k.

Charlie, good to talk to you tonight. Dave is the chief op of the station here, I am glad he was on duty. Sounded like a pretty good path. Is this typewriter of yours connected to your computer? Since when did you need a special key for BS? There are lots of other spirits here Charlie but Iíve lost my cork screw. Got to get over to the Scott Base store and buy another. Thanks for your letter and regards to Edie.

Dick and Martha Sanborn... Thank you for your letter but not some of the news it contained. What do you mean no more pets. You must have a cat around to keep the mice out of the cookie jar. I am on the ham radio Sunday evenings your time but Monday morning Zulu time, from about 0100 on 13.970 USB to about 0300 when I move up to about 14.300 USB. Dick, get your radio tuned up and join the pile-up.

I will be moving most of my work stuff to the telephone office upstairs over the firehouse in the coming weeks. The Jamesway that is my official office is too cold to spend any time in. There is forty feet of baseboard electric heat in it and it cannot keep up with the wind that blows through.

Speaking of wind... Today is the twoth of March and we are in Condition Two weather. That means some combination of wind and cold that puts the Windchill Index down below "Exposed Flesh Freezes In A Matter Of SecondsĒ. Right now the temperature is about plenty-too-cold-below-zero and the wind is raising a dust throughout the town, blowing over barrels and stop signs (they don't work very well anyhow), and scattering cardboard from the dumpsters. The Wind Chill is -85.7 and anyone traveling out of town must use a radio equipped vehicle. The weather since I have been here has been Condition Three, which is normal, except for a few times when Willy Field went to Two. I can't wait for Condition One; that's when you have to stay where you are, no going out except in teams of at least two.

I finally got an opportunity to watch a sunrise. The sun has been dipping below the horizon for a few weeks now but Iíve been so busy sleeping that I hadn't noticed. Now she is down more of the time and the sky is actually getting mostly dark around midnight. Sunrise happens at 0400 these days and only because I have some satellite work then am I getting up so early. My hours are all screwed up right now but as the winter goes on the satellite and the sun will both be up later and later.

Anyhow, the sun rises very slowly here and one must go to COS-RAY for the best view. Good thing that is where the satellite work is.

I have trained my little computer to wake me in the morning by turning on my reading light and playing notes up and down the scale. Much better than the harsh clanging bell of an alarm clock.

Today is Thursday, 10 March. Warm and sunny. Very nice compared to the past few days. Saw two skua around campus. I don't know if they have come back from another place or if they have been here hiding all the time. Lots of odds and ends of work but nothing new or exciting to report.

Ruth: Thanks for your QSL card, I have it on the wall to help remind me to find some from this place to send back. One of these days. Thanks for the issue of NH PROFILES it is a big hit here and helps illustrate my story.

I just got back from a trip out on the ice shelf. Here is a list of what I had to take off in order to get down to my skin for a shower: two mitten shells, two mitten liners, hat, special ozone proof sunglasses, big heavy red parka with hood, two big heavy blue mukluks, two booties, heavy red and black lumber-jack wool shirt, black many-pockets wind shell pants, wool inner pants, two grey tube-sox, white wool long underwear, dark-dark blue sweater, blue fish net shirt, and lastly, one camouflage bandana.

We are past the equinox now so the days are more dark than light. Someone told me that we lose about twenty-five minutes of sunlight each day. A little past the middle of April the sun will set and not rise again till August but it will still be until mid May before twilight is gone and the sky is totally dark enough to see the aurora.

The first Black Island Traverse finally happened on the third try. It was a two day affair with a party of seven in two vehicles. We went out around the back side setting trail-marker flags along the way and stayed overnight at the INMARSAT site on a little 700 foot mountain at the north end of the island. The next day we came back around the front side to the channel between Black and White and then back to MCM.

Now that I know the way I will be able to lead another trip out there around the end of March to the first of April. I think the boss is sending me out there then because he thinks I might have an April Fools joke up my sleeve. "Who me!?"

Some more snow the past few days but now much wind and a little warmer. Saw a skua around on Wednesday the 23rd. Stupid bird.

The menu in the mess is getting to be monotonous and the private dinner parties are beginning to spring up all over. I made my famous peanut butter soup for a dinner at the BFC last week and it went over very well. One of the best soups I've done. Alistair from Scott Base has invited me to cook over there some time soon. Also they don't know what we call brown bread is. You know, the kind that comes in a can that you have with hummers and hot dogs? Alistair said that brown bread is anything that is not white bread. I got a can and showed him what BROWN bread is but we didn't open it yet. Maybe I will serve it with my peanut butter soup next time.

Another thing of note from this week past: Bear-With-Me met In-The-Pink, a bear from Scott Base. They have traded letters and Bear-With-Me gave his new friend a nice wool scarf. I think we may have a Teddy Bears' Picnic before too long.

Sunday... lots of people sulking about; the CABLE is down, not that the TV is worth watching, no great loss in my opinion; but guess who's job it is to fix it. I'm just waiting for the first person to complain about it...

Just got a call that I was late for waffle brunch. And I am supposed to bring the maple syrup. All the waffs are getting cold waiting for moi.

Last night was the 46th anniversary of the inception of the SEABEES. Special dinner and dance. At times like this there are tablecloths and fancy deserts. Roscoe's surprise this time was Baked Alaska.

The novelty of being here is lessened a bit for me. Still there are some things to get excited about but now the petty squabbles with my neighbors take up more of the mealtime discussion. In spite of the efforts of some to mix the population of the community the people themselves tend to keep to their interest groups. The joggers are especially a sight! Try to picture someone jogging in a snowsuit, mukluks, and facemask... I have not got to do my radio show yet. The audience survey indicates that only three people here like classical music. Everyone else voted for either rockin 'n rollin', cryin'n dyin' or oldies 'n goodies; that leaves only about five minutes a day for classical and that doesn't even add up to enough time for a once a week programme. Needless to say the three people who voted for classical tend to not listen to the radio station.

Doug: I have finished with KAFFIR BOY, thank you. It is now making the rounds of the intellectuals. If you haven't already read HANTA YO you should. It is the same sort of story. You can borrow it from my sister Donna in Billerica.

Well, this is the end of Page 4, I am running out RAM.

I love you all very much and I miss you too; but I am having fun and making lots of money and meeting new people so itís almost ok.... On to page five.

Stay Gold, Al



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

Evil Al The Network NARC

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