My First Antarctic Winter/Over, McMurdo, AQ


                  McMud   June  Letter    page 7

Black Island TwilightWell folks, June has been an interesting month here at MacTown. The sun was long since gone but there has been a lingering twilight that meant the sky was never as totally absolutely midnight dark as it gets at home. Even while you were having your longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice, there was still a faint trace of colour around the northern rim here. Already now, a week later there is a noticeable difference. The days are getting longer now as it says in the song, just as yours are getting shorter, tho the sun will not make an appearance until some time in August.

My work is going along, but not so smooth as before. Last week I had a radio alarm that indicated a failure on the microwave. It came in the middle of the night and I was obliged to dress and go out in the night to check it out. 'Twas nothing that a little good weather won't fix. The air is so cold that it is freezing the radio waves even...

We have been in CONDITION 1 weather for the past two days. That's supposed to mean Mean Weather. There are yellow ropes between some of the buildings so one may get to the galley and the dorm. Other buildings have their own kitchens and food. Your not supposed to go out in Condition One. I have done weather observations on Mt Washington in worse than this. These Navy people and their wimpy rules...

Tonight I went to cook hot dogs and beans for the Kiwis at Scott Base. They don't know what real hot dogs and beans are and I had a hard time making do with the yucky beans they did have. I found some brown bread in an old storeroom here and that was new to them and I made my famous Wowie!Zowie!Cake for them too. The driving was pretty bad to get there tonight and worse to get back. One of the big Deltas went off the road in the blowing snow and slid down a steep embankment about ten metres but didn't tip over. Driver couldn't find his way in blowing snow so he kept going... drove right over the edge. I've driven on Mt Washington in worse conditions than this and so I didn't have any problems with my pickup. But all the same, I wouldn't want to be stuck outside tonight.

Lots of snow static on the shortwave. Comms pretty bad so phone patches have been difficult. Today there is a long list. Its Father's Day and my day to work the Ham shack.

What if Airdrop doesn't happen
And there is no mail for me.
Worse if it does
And there is still no mail for me.
At least if my mail ends up at the Pole
I'll know there was mail for me.
But What if the mail for me
Ends up in the sea...

Perhaps by now you will have seen some of the other poems I have written. Rhyming is an interesting form of expression, especially with some of the tighter forms like haiku. Sometimes the words tumble out and it is difficult for me to copy them fast enough so I don't lose any to the wind. Sometimes when I am only writing a letter the lines start to rhyme as if by themselves.

Your welcome to keep, If you care or you dare, A copy of each of these Poems from my lair. These words run from my fingers, They brush from my hair; To burden you with them May not be fair but, I find I can't keep Them locked up any where.

I'm back. After a day in the life of the Wizard of McMurdo. I spend some time thinking about what it is I am doing here and why. Sometimes I am concerned that I burden others here to much with my presence but one person here who I have come to love and trust with my confessions takes the time to convince me that my ability to listen to others cry about what they are missing is more important.

dark sky full of stars
drifting blowing snow and cold
eat sleep read work cry
living in space no children
prison I escape in dreams

I try not to look forward to going home; the going will get here faster if I don't look for it, merely wait. But how I miss being there and look forward to being there again.

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!
Then...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.

Communications have been pretty bad lately. I have not talked to any one from the North Country in weeks and weeks. The last word I had was that Greg was leaving the mountain but I don't know why. It is hard dealing with scrapes of information. Like trying to assemble a jig-saw puzzle with not all the pieces.

Phone patches are no help right now; they are just not good for long conversations and the satellite phone is too expensive, it costs a dollar just to hmmm and haw for a few seconds. I must work three days to afford one call as long as this letter is now. At the rate the postage is going up it will soon cost me as much to mail it... I got a MARSgramme from Roger: my phone bill for the EMAIL tests is 1,100 dollars, and I didn't even get one real letter out of all that.

Thanks very much to all of you who helped out with getting that project off the ground. I hope you don't feel too let down.

Last night I drove out to Hut Point, around the corner to put the lights of MacTown behind me, and sat and watched the sky for a while. The last glimmering of twilight is still in the sky, just a faint tinge of red and blue along the edge of the mountains to the north. In another two weeks the sky should start getting light again and by August we should see the sun. In the darker part of the sky just above the horizon I could see Orion; I showed Orion to Bryan before I came here, it is a winter constellation. Here Orion stands on his head.

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?

I have watched every movie in the tape library at least once now except most of the sex and violence flicks. I don't like them much to start with and somehow they seem to be even more depressing down here. When I get up north I think it will take me at least a month to catch up on all the new movies that I am missing now.

Today is Sunday and I am going to the Ham Shack to stand with the other MARS operators for the Cruisebook picture. The Cruisebook is sort of like a high school yearbook.

AIRDROP has happened! It was pretty neat watching the planes. Sort of like watching for Father Christmas to come down the chimney into the kerosene stove...Preparations have been going on for weeks. The Willie Field tower was renovated in town here and hauled out on a giant sledge. All the runway lights had to be dug out of the snow and the drop zone dragged with a chain to smooth away the drifts. Burn barrels were set in place to mark the drop zone and all the big Deltas were made ready to transport the pallets. There is even a tractor mounted forklift.

Then we waited on the weather. The Air Force flies this mission as a training exercise using a C-141 and a tanker. They have to fly all the way from Christchurch to the Pole and back without stopping for gas. You all can look on your maps to see how far that is. In the C-130 that I came in on, four turbo props and skis, it’s an eight hour flight CHCH to MCM.

The C-141 does it in five with jet engines and no skis. In the summer they can land on the sea-ice runway but not on the skiway. The weather on Drop Day was high thin overcast and not much wind. I went with some other people out towards Castle Rock.

We heard on the radio that the plane was thirty miles out and a few minutes later, way overhead saw a contrail arc across the sky, across the halo around the moon. It was the tanker; way up there, lit up like a Christmas tree. Then way low, just a couple of thousand feet above the sea ice the sleigh pulled by four giant jetdeer lumbered along towards the flashing strobe of the runway and the burning DFA barrels. From where I was I couldn't see the chutes and pallets and it was all over in a minute. The freshies and the mail had landed.

The big plane came around again, climbing to meet the tanker which had circled once overhead, and headed for the Pole. They would get their drop today and then we would get another, mostly cargo, on Thursday.

All that happened before lunch, but it took a few hours to load the stuff onto the Deltas and drive the eight miles to town. Freshies were first so that they might not freeze the lettuce and toms. Mail would be later. We had SALAD for supper. I saw a couple of apples go by but wasn't fast enough to get one. The strawberries didn't survive the trip and some of the bananas froze. But the lettuce: salad in the morning, salad in the evening, salad at suppertime, be my little salad; I'll eat you one more time.

The first mail call was about 2100. Mostly boxes. Some letters. There would be more later but we had to get rid of some of the stuff as there was no room to sort any more. There was over five TONS of mail. That averages out to something like 50 pounds each and someone said I was in the top ten. Well I don't know about that. I did get a lot of letters and some packages. And I cannot be sure whether I was more delighted over the letters I didn't expect or disappointed that the ones I really wanted were not here... like the Stones say: You can't always get what you want, but you get what you need. Then I get a message that says I have mail at the Pole. I suppose that's typical of the post office. Now that they have raised the rates again they can lose my mail to further away places. Maybe the letters I most wanted to have are at the Pole. I won't know until November...

But the things I did get... an invitation to a birthday party in April, and another to a Wedding in August, three jars of REAL maple syrup, two crushed pineapples (that box also contained pineapple flavoured Oreos, pineapple pinwheels, pineapple popcorn and a pineapple Boston Globe...); six tins of evaporated milk and cheese and peanut butter, a yellow rose, sox... and a card from a special friend that said "I'll always love you."

I'm going to work my way down through the pile of letters and answer most of the general interest questions here but this long letter won't leave the ice till September. Some of you may get short letters before that if I can sneak them out from time to time.

Will someone please give Charlotte and Norman my regards and address. I wrote to them but their letter was returned. Happy Birthday Normie, sorry to miss your party.

Ann-Marie: Thanks for your letter telling me what Spring is doing and how the kids are. I got a pile of art from them: Jessica's "Fourth of July" is hanging on the wall for this week. We are going to have a bonfire and a pig roast for that holiday. I hope your doing well and that Mum is OK in her new home.

Larry Moore: Thanks for the maple syrup. It arrived in fine shape. I am not doing too much hiking right now but I do get a lot of walking done going from place to place around town on my daily walkabout.

Greg Gordon: Thank you for all the F-6 stuff. I have passed it on to the weather guessers here for them to see what real weather is like. Yes, I'm over the hump now. The week on week off of the Obs was good training for this job. I have been offered a place here for next year but I don't know yet. It could be interesting working six months on and six months off; sort of an endless summer. I might miss skiing. The song birds, eh? I can hardly wait for the return of the loud and squawking skua and the honking, braying penguins...

Mack: I am happy to read that you expect to be soon in your new studio. Is the parking lot to be big enough to turn my bus in? Thanks ever so much for all the news and the box of goodies. Someone else here got a yo-yo too so we might have a competition... Your little jug of syrup arrived OK and I had some on pancakes the day after airdrop. Good stuff! Good also to hear that the repeaters are doing well and that Guy wrote such a nice letter to Alan. Thanks for your part in that. What do you think the future of Amateur Radio is on the Summit? I have been following the WAR through little bits of news from time to time and received several clips in this deluge of mail. I'm glad I'm not there; it’s all so stupid... Please give my Best Regards to Claire Hinchley at the bank and to all the folks that helped send me on my “coming back here” in September. Albie too! Albie is at Grey Knob as I write this and Peggy is working for a newspaper in Saint Johnsbury. She even gets a byline for her writing . When will John Gribbel sell his Conway place. I have several boxes of books there and a pile of other junk that I will want to recover...

The station at KC4USV/NNN0ICE consists of a 20x20 flat roofed shack set in the pass between OB Hill and T-SITE just where the road turns left toward Scott Base. There is a three element beam on a thirty foot tower for twenty metres and there used to be a fifteen metre beam on a similar tower but it blew away too late to be replaced for this season. There is also a 40 metre sloping V.

Inside, besides the DFA furnace and the U-Barrel there is a Drake TR-7A, a Henry 2K Classic, outboard VFO, and a Collins phone patch. The RTTY stuff is model 40 and there is some slow-scan TV equipment too. All the equipment belongs to the Navy and is (sort of) maintained by them. The antennae are the responsibility of the contractor, which, like similar relationships in the business and scientific aspects of this endeavour, makes for some really hellish trouble-shooting problems.

During airdrop MAC CENTRE could not hear the approaching aircraft on 8997 USB. They didn't find out until later that their antenna had blown away. In order to facilitate the communications for this most essential mission Scott Base listened to 8997 and patched it to their FM music transmitter on about 95 mHz.

MAC CENTRE couldn't find a boom box with enough selectivity to separate that signal from the two local twenty-five watt stations at 94 and 104 mHz so the community went without music and news for the duration. An elegant solution perhaps but it points up the confusion and last minute nature of a lot of the fixes here.

MARSgrammes flow into MCM quite well via NNN0GKF in PA who, due to poor 20 metre comms, puts the grammes on the ATS-VAX mailbox in Malibar FL addressed to Pole. Pole picks up its mail once a day via the ATS-3 satellite when it exchanges data and makes phone patches via the same bird. They very rarely get up on Ham freqs. The grammes will come to MCM either via the SouthPoleSatelliteDataLink, which uses a spare transponder on Landsatt, or by way of a 40 metre MARS freq. MCM has no similar path outgoing and the Navy will not allow that the grammes be sent via NTS. There is no equipment that might use any of the Ham satellites so the messages pile up until we get a good day and a good operator stateside to take them. But that's OK... it really doesn't matter...

Next time I come down here I want to bring a portable Satellite Packet station and see what I can do with the new OSCAR. The Hams at Scott have all that stuff and it works great.

Ben: The box of Red River arrived in fine shape. I will take it to one of the kitchens I can use and have some with maple syrup. Thank you. Thanks also for the news about the mountain and the annual sled ride. Dave when he was on vacation out west. Thanks for all the info about Mad House. That's my fav hut even tho JBH used to work there...

Willie: What joke book? Did it get censored out by New Zealand Customs? You don't need to join MARS to run patches. A lot of the time we go up to 14.313 to the MM net. Quite often comms are better there than on MARS. Not good the news about WMOU. Those greedy bastards will never stop.

My week around town consists mostly of a daily walkabout to check on several communications systems. Sometimes I fix things... A typical weekly report looks like this:

Saturday... T-SITE, clean and sort parts for air dryers; COSRAY, work on interference problem where ATS-3 transmitter is causing spurious counts in neutron monitor. Check SATTRACK, BFC, CHALET.

Monday... Proposal for mods to Navy SSB switch matrix; MARS; Check SATTRACK, BFC, CHALET. 

Tuesday... T-SITE, inventory MR400 UHF radio equipment; fix copier at BIOLAB; Check SATTRACK, BFC, CHALET. 

Wednesday... T-SITE, compressor failure; fix sewing machine at BFC. Check SATTRACK, BFC, CHALET.

Thursday... Check SPSDL dome and receiver; clear error in INMARSAT CPU. Check SATTRACK, BFC, CHALET.

Friday... Reports and Letters. Check SATTRACK, BFC, CHALET.

The part about checking Sattrack, BFC, Chalet is usually done in the order of BFC for tea in the morning, Chalet sometime later, and Sattrack in time to set and have a glass of Chablis before din-din.

BFC is the Berg Field Centre where we outfit all the field parties and the SAR teams. Tents, packs, food, sledges, porta-potty, stove (turds are saved in Baggies and flown back to MCM for cremation (last summer, of one flight back from Black Island, we stopped on some small ice berg to pick up a field party; they had to leave behind a couple of tool boxes as the cargo space of the chopper was full of bags of thiS. (can you imagine what sort of poem Robert Service would write: The Cremation of Sam Maggie's thiS))) ... in the corner in a sort of clean room is the MCM end of the Black Island micro-wave and out back are the batteries that run it. I check them mostly each day then go upstairs where Jill runs the sewing machine and the tea party.

Chalet is the ANS (contractor) headquarters building. The boss’ office is there along with the INMARSAT terminal, FAX and TWX.

Sattrack is the hub of the universe here. The centre of intellectual stimulation and the home of the only people really worth having a beer with. (Don't tell anyone else here that.) The two guys at Sattrack are chili that would make Guy's eyes water, also doubles as the Station Senior Science Leader and NSF rep. He is also the official Greenpeace Antagonist; but don't let that fool you, he drives a Harley so he can't be all bad. I keep my popcorn popper at Sattrack and try to stay at least a six-pack ahead with the LION BROWN (that's some GOOD! Kiwi beer). Keith and Larry Rappaport have a few things in common (they both have installed TVRO Earth stations) and he is an ex-hippie so we have a lot to chat about.

Glenn: Thanks for your news about the net and the pictures. I hope you get rid of all that snow before I come to visit. Another friend also wrote to say he had suffered a similar accident. His vehicle was hit by several trees and then a pile of rocks which threw it into the air. "A sixty-one-hundred dollar amusement park ride." he said. Some day when the comms are good I will try to make the right connexions to check in on the net. I was able to do it one night with the Heavy Hitters Traffic Net on 04/64 in Waltham.

Frank: Good to read from you, thanks for the picture and the news. I hope to be able to help out with your Bird House Project. That could well be a means of sustenance for me when I return from here.

Christoph: Your letter and pictures from Zurich brightened my day. Thanks for trying for the poster. I wrote to France directly but have not received anything. Perhaps you might keep me in mind when you drive there. I received a letter from Mr. Cook who thanks me again for the good time he had as your guest and I thank you for that favour.

Kathy: Part of what I am doing here is just that; to find out who can write letters... I am trying on a new skin. Looking for the Way. Learning new things and relearning things I did not know I had forgotten. Working OR sightseeing? Yes! But I still like Mount Washington the best and some day I will go back; if there is anything to go back to. The "crew"? Not too much. Bob Loring is still building his new house in Conway. Dave Scharn was teaching in Conway but he left there just before I did. Chick just bought a new truck, rolled his last one. Last I knew: Bobby had his own business in Colorado designing and installing custom car music systems; Tony was getting a divorce; Eileen was still with Hewlett Packard; Artie has been driving a long haul moving van, bought his own rig.

I have changed my name...


Stay Gold,     Love,     Thole 


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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