My First Antarctic Winter/Over, McMurdo, AQ


letter from antarctica,


I haven't been tent camping in the winter for so long I have forgotten some of the tricks of having a good time. I went on a SAR practice mission here in early May just before we got into total darkness. We camped on the snow above Hutton Cliffs near Cape Evans across the bay from the Greenpeace station. I chatted with ZL5BA from my sleeping bag inside the Scott Tent and had a breakfast of Mountain House freeze dried stew. One thing I didn't forget was my pottybottle. Very handy on a winter camp.  

Our campout was only for about thirty hours so we didn't have much time for anything beyond get-there-set-up-overnight-take-down-and-back-again. But I did get to drive a sno-mobile flat out across the Ross Ice Shelf weaving in and out along the marker flags like they were a giant slalom. I also got to experience first hand how dismally poor VHF communications around here are compared to what we are use to doing with repeaters in New England. I wrote a paper on that subject making all sorts of recommendations to improve the reliability of the network.

Now we are at the end of May:

Just now, last night, It's the twenty-ninth of May,
We had the half-way party;
Half-way home or here to stay?
Who can say?
It is no longer May. It’s June!
And by the Light of next full moon:
I am trying not to get excited;
Just delighted!

Of course I wrote it and if you tell me you like it I'll send you a longer one about 3beansalad or one or two other shorter ones. The words are flowing thick and fast. I need to find a benefactor who likes poetry....

Memorial Day was a holiday here. We, the civilian contractor, had it off but for the Navy it was a regular work day. Jill made a Thanksgiving Day Turkey Dinner and invited all her "family"; about twenty-five people were there. The turkey had sauerkraut stuffing; it was a Polish turkey. I made the gravy and helped carry in the wine. One of the discussions at dinner was about “Blue Moons”. A Blue Moon is the second full moon in any month. It doesn't happen all that often to begin with and this time it happened in a very special way. On any calendar brought from the states May was shown to have two full moons: The first on the first and the second on the thirty-first. On any calendar from New Zealand June was shown to have two full moons: On the first and on the twenty-ninth. This difference must have something to do with the fact that it is almost always tomorrow in New Zealand because time there is something like seventeen hours ahead of the east coast of North America. So if the moon were to be full during that time it could show up, as it was, in both months. But! the question is: For how long is the moon really FULL? What is the standard, accepted definition of the term "full moon"? And what are the romantic implications and the practical limitations?

Out there someplace there is a romantic song that speaks of "Blue Moon, I saw you standing alone...." and there is a saying among people: "It only happens once in a Blue Moon." My calendar, from the states, indicates that there is only one Blue Moon in 1988, the one in May. Perhaps one of you avid readers might write to Abe Weatherwise at the OFA and ask him just how often a Blue Moon can happen and what was the origin of the phrase "once in a..." I have found a copy of the song at KICE and I am going to take it apart and learn what I can there. I'm certainly interested in what the OFA has to say.

After dinner, as I was walking on the way to my room, full moon was up over Ob Hill and I shot off a signal flare to salute him. Standing there, watching the flare arc up and over I realised:

The moon is upsidedown down here
On south side of equator,
The sun is too
But no shape has she,
That I can see,
And so she does not matter.
The man on the moon stands on his head
When I go to bed,
And I stand on mine to see him.
Orion's kilt falls away from his legs,
And to me at least the question begs:
Should he not be called MacOrion?  

...and hurried back to my notebook to write it down. That set me to thinking of some other things about this continent and what we are doing here:  

Don't you think that that's a lot of ice?
Coal and mountains
But no fountains,
Nine thousand feet straight up
From sea to air;
It's just not fair
To be so bare
Of flowers trees and hare.
The dust and rock,
It's not a crock,
There's naught that makes home here.
Except a lichen
Or a krill
Or a penguin,
Seal or whale.
But People!
People struggle to survive,
People build to stay alive,
People try and buy and cry and fly
To get back home where they may die;
But they don't Live
Out on the Ice.
It's not so nice.   
There are no trees
To please and ease,
There are no girls and boys to tease,
No cats and rats nor oliphaunts;
Noah's Ark would be so empty
If he had started here.
To what use is all of this but
For a place to sell more beer?

The days go by and the work gets done and I am having my ups and downs. This must be what its like to be in jail, you get so pale, never seeing any sun. The dark is fun, in a way, the stars are bright, outside of town, right here the light washes the sky to such a degree that you can hardly see anything. I am missing Summer in the hills and the people I would walk and swim with:


A penguinjection would be nice
To keep my blood becoming ice;
But then when I go home someday,
Unhappy I would be, if
I had to wear an air-conditioned
Coat on a sunny summer day.
Down here I think I'd rather wear a hat!
And long underwear and sweater,
Overboots and overbritches,
Scarf and gloves, two pairs of
Mittens and on my feet:
The more blue sox the better!
When I get home one day I’ll
Just put on my skysuit; and
In the woods I will go walking
And in the river I will play.

Well, so much for May; I guess I'll end this letter, it cannot get any better. Only worse, if I persist in adding verse.

My love to you all... 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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