My First Antarctic Winter/Over, McMurdo, AQ


               Letters form Antarctica        Page  8

Bill: Thank you for writing and for the news about Rich Morgan. I can pretty well make my own schedule here too. Sort of like at the OBs. Some things I do on a daily basis, some things I work on till they’re done. (Fixed or Finished) The snow doesn't crust here, it packs very dense, sometimes so hard it is like walking on pavement. Very excellent for building igloos and sledding.

Dan and Linda: Thanks for the invite and glad to know your getting the stuff I send. I am sorry I will not be there. The planes don't land until two weeks too late. Please hold onto my Christmas present. Perhaps you will have another by the time I get there but it is in my plan. By now my old 750 should be sold and when I get home I will get something new and come and visit you. I am happy to read that Stewart is doing well and has his own MC. What colour is it? Regards to Heather and Don. Where will they be setting up housekeeping?

Joan and Roger: Well I'm glad the first three pages have finally arrived. I'm not sure what page I am on now but I will number them before they go out. Dot drives a fork lift and doubles as a carpenter, Figgy is the best soup cook in the galley, Brian and Sue are sort of counterparts at opposite ends of the ATS-3 satellite circuit and Tom knits kneck gaiters during Jill's tea parties. From the sounds of your latest menu we could use your culinary abilities here.

While Figgy does do a rather excellent job on the scratch built soups, some of the box mixes (that is a fifty pound box mixed in a bathtub sized cooker...) have way too much salt. We get fish once or twice a week. Every now and again some one goes out on the sea ice and drills a hole through twenty feet of ice to catch an Antarctic Cod, sometimes one is pulled from the water in the swimming hole at Scott Base; but mostly the fish has been breaded and frozen since resupply last year. Mystery Meat stew is very big on the menu but if I cannot identify it I will not eat it. That goes for the potatoes too. It's hard enough being a veggie here and when they start putting funny little red things in the Three Bean Salad there is not much left but peanut butter (Thank you Mark.). But I'm doing well. I've been trying for years to loose a little weight; now I'm down to 138 in my skysuit. That's about 168 in my snowsuit.

Jessica: Bryan's card and your letter were the best ones I received at airdrop. You don't need to write a whole lot when you say so much in only three words.

Rosemary: Yes! The Blackness of it all. There is a tinge of blue tending toward violet and a shade of dried blood red but for the most part this place is Black! Especially in the long dark night; except downtown where everything is sodium-vapour-mall-parking-lot-orange. If you get down on your mittens and knee pads you might look close at those volcanic rock samples for any little dots of red and orange. Nothing green grown here outside of the BIOLAB (Megan has some leaf lettuce and ingrown marigolds that I visit once a month just to be reminded what the colour green looks like.) Thanks for the snaps of Jasper and Inge. News of them has been lacking in the few letters from the OBS. MacMillan I think.

 Have you ever been to the Pilgrim Museum in Provincetown? Quite an impressive "local son" Arctic wing there. "Forestry Dept" would imply the State of New Hampster; I think you mean the USFS. They seem to be the ones with their noses most bent out of shape. Thanks for the news about the eagle! I think I saw one once an hundred years ago whilst canoeing on the Saco over by the Walker Falls Camp in Brownfield. That's in Maine I think, so it may not count... Good news about the fireworks, I guess its safe for me to come back now, eh? What do you suppose LL Bean will do for their Conway store? How about if they pipe in a piece of the Saco... littered with Bud cans and condoms... The coffee is holding out well, thank you. I save it for my one cup a day at breakfast. I have found some WHOLE powdered milk, unlike the skim powdered that we get in the states, New Zealand is big on whole powdered milk and sterilised whole milk that need not be refrigerated until opened. Why does not the United States have such innovative and energy saving products available in Conway?

Judy: you’re not the onlyist of the distaff side of my extended family to write but I dare say you have the cutest twins. Yes please do send the PHC tapes. I miss old Garrison, we don't get him here, even in reruns. We do get NPR Morning Edition by the shortwave on AFRTS but that's all news. You think flying a kite amongst the penguins is a challenge, you should try playing yo-yo wearing mittens! Sunday's is Glenn, Wednesday's is Ben... who's on Friday?

Dick Cook: Thank you. My regards to Tom Small and I am happy you are sharing these letters with him and others. Just before station closing one of the visiting scientists gave an interesting lecture on the subject of meteorites that have been collected here. I doubt the Earth has parts insofar as God's priorities are concerned or, to put it another way, that God has priorities for parts of the Earth. What was it the Region One badge said? "All For One - One For All".

Sue: Thanks for your card. I am glad you're my sister. Lori, your penmanship is very pretty; do you write like that all the time?

Nick: Thanks for picture of your Timber Wolf! Would not like it here, no timber. Yes and Yes. Hope your still alive when I get back to look at all these photos. Rusty tin cans from Scott’s Hut and dead petrified seals are protected by Historical Artifacts and Antiquities Act (which, if fact, gains more respect than Antarctic Treaty). I listened in to the Ski Trek position reports via satellite several times and chatted with the Russian operator at both North Pole stations on 40m. Is palm tree to give wolf some timber to feel at home with?

Dave: Got your cards from your travels. I think I talked about the different kinds of vehicles in another letter but to recap: We have pickups and vans for use in town where the roads are kept graded and packed. Then there are tracked vehicles like Spryte, Snocat, Nodwell, Foremost, and Caterpillar and some huge articulated things called Delta that have low pressure tyres five feet tall and three feet wide. They steer by bending the vehicle in the middle rather than by turning the wheels. Snomobiles are used for SAR and Field Party but not available for casual use.

Chaco: I remember that first day at the OBS; when I put my pack down I felt I belonged there, had always been there. I get the same feeling here sometimes. This place is like Mount Washington and Wah-tut-ca and then some, all rolled into one volcanic shopping maul.

Sometimes I am too insulated to fully absorb the goings on around me. Parts of it are like a daydream, or a nightmare. Some things happen so fast I don't have time to grab hold and save them, and pictures will not come close to expressing to others the wonder that I sense in being here.

Even if I am not making any meaningful contribution or leaving any lasting impression. The carpenters and the plumbers and the metal workers have buildings to look at when they are finished. I provide a service to bring in the baseball games and send out the patches and the grammes that keep these denizens in touch with their families. It is hard to hang a plaque on a service. In my quest to find the Way I learn that it really doesn't matter. That is fast becoming my new mantra.

“On tiptoe you don't stand. Astride you don't walk. Showing yourself, you don't shine. Asserting yourself, you don't show. Boasting yourself won't get you credit. Vaunting yourself won't let you endure.

“Thirty spokes share one hub; In emptiness lies the wheel's utility. Kneading clay makes a pot; In emptiness lies the pot's utility. Cutting doors and windows makes a room. In emptiness lies the room's utility.

“Gain can be had from somethingness, But use can be had from nothingness.”     (Lao Tzu)

So I am learning; but it is a hard lesson.

Lucy: Thanks for your newsy letter. Next time you’re in St.J look up Peggy Dillon at the newspaper. She has been here and you both are crazy enough that you might hit it off. I have not heard from Little Jon since he left but I hear from the contractor here that he is coming back for another summer. Happy you like the little bag. I haven't figured out what I will do for this year. There is a sewing machine here but insufficient material. I may let that project wait until I get back to the states.

Wayne & Barb: I was somewhat amazed at the number of people I know who were all in NZ and Australia around about the same time. Thanks for all the detail of your trip, I have lots to think about, from you and others, on how to spend my time and money in NZ on the way home. The watch arrived OK, thank you. MCM is the same time as London.

Keep in mind that this continent is bigger than CONUS and the winter over population is only a few hundreds at best. There is very little communications person to person between the stations except for MCM and Scott and we both speak related dialects of the Kings English so when you go to their bar you get what you want when you say BEER! Maybe not the brand you want, but it's cold. There is a Radio Darts Tournament that involves MCM, Scott, and the Aussies, and of course we have daily contact with Pole. You might try to listen in: 11.553, 8997, both USB. There are lots of other freqs in use. Some I have listed in previous letters.

On the so called TV/FM dial we have KICE transmitting on several channels. The primary programme outlet is 25 watts on 104mHz from the studio in the building known as one-fifty-five. That transmission is received at T-Site and translated to 98mHz for retransmission to Willie Field and Scott Base. The secondary programming, consisting of AFRTS, VOA, BBC, Radio Australia, is likewise transmitted from one-fifty-five with 25 watts on 94mHz but not repeated from T-Site. For TV we have channel 2, one or two movies a day on the cable only. Then there is channel 4/8. It is the primary and transmits on channel 4 on the air and the cable. At T-SITE 4 translates to 8. There is an extensive VCR rental and tape library and except for a twice weekly "local news and weather" all the programming is tape.

The Primary radio station has several live DJs but most of the programming is year-old tape from AFRTS. For the Secondary we operate a Yaesu with ten programmed memories at the Black Island Receiver Site connected to a 40m sloping V. Line audio is fed back to MCM via the telephone microwave and the memory step switch is connected via the alarm and control circuit to Sattrack in town where I have my Trash80mod100 programmed to step the memories so we have a selection of programmes as the stations come and go. In the morning is Radio Australia; News at Noon from VOA is followed by sports from AFRTS, then in the evening we go to BBC for a few hours then back to AFRTS for NPR Morning Edition.

MaryLou & Jeff: Thanks for your card and good wishes. I will probly go through customs in several places. Some of my stuff I will mail ahead, some I will check through to Boston. Some may not come until the resupply ship in February. That's the least expensive way.

Albie: No snowsnakes here for sure... I am glad you like my cliff hanger... I will be here to make peanut butter soup to celebrate your return.

Peggles: you unmitigated coot... The only way I can answer your letter in such a forum as this without getting myself in any deeper is to say No, Several, I'm not surprised and what sort of word processor do you use at the newspaper that can keep up with your spelling. So your wearing PANTs now, eh? Thanks for writing. Vermont would have been unheard from if not for you. Look out for Lucy Wyman.

Alex & Barbie: Likewise I may never recover from the same shock. I didn't realise you had a microphone! Thanks for all the news. I will comment on some of it more fully in a letter to you.

Kenny & Jane: Yours is by far the longest letter. I love it! All that news! Well, when you get tired of that place there is work you could do here. There are other couples here, married and un-, if you can deal with the BS you can put away a lot of money. Summer here from September to February and then summer in Conway from March to August. Lots of fringe benefits.

Rob & Ann: Thanks for all the travel tips and foot notes. I expect I'll spend a week or three in NZ on the way back. More later.

Mark: Only you, who have been here for such a long hitch, could have thought of all the things to put in a care package, But next time you mail someone crushed pineapple be sure to include the can, eh. In any case, I am deeply in your debt. I have found several whole Ritz crackers and, with the dents knocked out, the can they came in is rather attractive; I may save it. The milk is a blessing and the Pinwheels, tho they all exploded like they do at the OBS, are outa sight. I mixed up some of the Kiwi whole milk powder and had Pinwheels and milk for a bedtime snack. Larry, eat your heart out! I have Pinwheels in July. You’re right about the BS. Tell Kenny, but don't discourage him. I think he and Jane would like it here.

Jim: Greetings from the SOUTH! Thanks for your letter and news of "Deerfield". Maybe it will return to its former majesty.

Greg & Nancy & Jeff: I hope your charging for all those copies. I want royalties... some of my subsequent letters will have a copy right statement... you and Mack Beal have my permission to excerpt from them. Good to hear the After Signoff Net is meeting and partying still.

Chick: Yours is the very last letter. It arrived all by itself in the second airdrop with the cargo on the thirtieth. I'll bet if you had written it ten minutes later it would not have made here till September. I am healthy, mostly happy and there is nothing here to get horny about. It really doesn't matter. Your adventure with the icy road reminds me of the time I rolled my old VW bus in Manchester and steering wheel and out the passenger door". Very same story...

There is a lot to be said about the bad press this place gets from time to time. There is lots of good press coming out of here too but as usual the badder stories sell the papers. And it all comes down to what price, as a people, as a nation, are we willing to pay for our presence here, for the research that is being done, for the things we learn that may make life easier for Larry D'Logger in West Milan next winter. AMC ought to run this place: Carry In Carry Out, remember that on the Fifty Miler?

One present situation concerns the missing section of chain-link in the fence around the dump. The fence was put up only last summer, I don't know how long this particular dump has been operating. It's like the dump that used to be in Billerica... burn and fill. It gets burned on Saturday night. Between burns a lot of stuff blows out onto the ice. So now, finally, we have a fence. ...with a hole you can drive a D-8 through. The Navy is responsible for the dump in the winter. The Contractor in responsible for the dump in the summer. The Contractor is not going to fix the fence now cause its the Navy's job. The Navy cannot get out of its own way to fix anything but another pot of coffee and that they do not very well. So, in the meanwhile the trash blows out on the ice on the south wind. Perhaps the National Science Foundation will get wind of the situation and we will get it fixed before Greenpeace comes around gathering news again.

There is a lot of junk lying around. And a lot of stupid mistakes and politically motivated decisions being made. It’s like at home: the quality of life is the last thing considered, if it is at all, in any decision. What will it cost? Who will pay? Does it look snazzy so when the politicos come on their junket they will be impressed? No one in a position to make a difference gives a thiS about if something is going to work, make life easier, last more than a season... They are all to busy protecting their jobs to care about what is happening. The guys at the bottom who put up with wrong tools, missing parts, lousy food; whose survival depends on getting the job done, will get it done.

Another truck accident a few days ago out on Deadman’s Curve. Same place as where the Delta went in. I have heard it said that someone gets killed there almost every year. This time it was a new pickup. Only 500 hours. Going too fast, hit the guard rail, tore the right front tyre off'n the rim, stove in the grill, and busted both the front and back cab windows. The driver walked to town.

Great Fourth of July Pig Roast last night and then on top of that there was a South of The Border Guadalajara night. I'm not much for roast pig anymore but the party was a good time for standing around next to the Cajun Microwave... wood smoke... no black flies though.

The Mexican Meal was at the BFC. Small party after the big party. It was good to have a three day weekend following so close on the Week of Airdrop. Everyone was so tired out after reading all that mail, we needed a day off to get rested up for work. Real SAR last night. Some Navy guy left the bar at Scott Base to walk back to MCM. He never showed up. I think they didn't leave him enough time. It's like some of the searches that the AMC and the OBs have been involved with. Someone pushes a panic button and the search party is out all night looking for some fool who is sleeping it off under a tree all safe and happy. So it was here. At 0100 they were out waking up everyone in town to look in everyone's room. Then the search party went round to all the other buildings and looked in them and they looked in all the vehicles that did not have their doors taped shut. At 0700 whilst the radioman at T-SITE was doing his morning metre-readings the missing man walked out from behind one of the transmitters where he had been sleeping in a drunken stupor on the cold floor. He didn't break any rules so aside from some hard feelings from his peers he will not be punished.

Thank you very much also to Martha & Dick, Frank, Ted, Steve, Jack, John, Aunt Kay, for your cards and letters which I hope have been answered in this letter.

Another week, another payday... There was a cookout tonight. Saturday the ninth of July. Well, not a cookout really but a party for the opening of a new club and the steaks and chicken and burgers were cooked on a fire outside. We have some barbecue things made of split oil drums. The drums are split down the sides so there are two pieces with half-circle ends. One is welded to some legs with its open side up and holes are punched in the ends and bottom for draft. The grill, made of open mesh stair tread, is fitted in and then the top half is added with hinges and some sort of stove pipe and maybe a window so you can watch things cook.

So here we are standing around at plenty-too-cold-below-zero, under the sodium-vapour street lights, snow falling and swirling about on a light breeze, cooking steaks on the ninth of July. The food had all been thawed in the morning but it was freezing again as it sat in the cold waiting to be cooked.

 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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