Travels With Oso con Migo

Winter In The Ross Island Dependency

OAE At The Bleak Island Monastic Brotherhood Of Seers

August 20, 1996, last letter June 11, 1996

Gentle Readers,

Saturday, June 29, 1996, Once in a Blue Moon.

tho I've not sent a letter since back in April. There is one ready now but with the UMN WWWeb server down I have not sent it for fear of prompting an outpouring of I canna find your page letters. On the other hand that would be one way to see who is reading my page wouldn't it... In the end six of you wrote to say you could not find my letters. Thank you. Now the University of Minnesota WWWeb sever has moved into new hardware and is restored enough to show all these letters so I have uploaded the newest.

You must be well into noseeums time in the far north then, eh? I didn't think I'd ever miss them little buggers...

And also, help me to be careful
Of the toes I step on today as they
May be connected to the ass
That I might have to kiss tomorrow.

And Furthermore: Ask not of what concerneth you not
Lest you hear what pleaseth you not. 

The greenhouse was constructed just after my first visit to McMurdo and has been growing and growing vegies ever since (except for at least one time when the heat failed and everything froze.) Kristan has been harvesting about 130 pounds of produce each month, with a majority of it lettuces (approx. 85%); some of the produce includes, in addition to a wide variety of lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, miscellaneous peppers, corn, peas, beans, watermelon, cantaloupe (although I haven't gotten any fruit off it yet), and herbs such as cilantro, basil, dill, &c. Kristan wrote that part. I have yet to see any melons, unless they are being cut up into tiny pieces and hidden in the occasional Waldorf salad. 

We use approximately 150 gallons of water per week to sustain the entire greenhouse. The plants are grown in vermiculite, which is mica that is puffed up like popcorn, and used also as a packaging material, so we have plenty of it. The nutrients added to the water comprise a combination of about 20 different elements (such as carbon, potassium, &c.) We get the nutrient solutions from New Zealand. 

Last night we had a belated dinner for the feast day of Saint Pelagius. It was also to be the celebratory dinner of the launch of the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (see my last letter and the TOMS Earth Probe page) however the launch has been postponed 48 hours cos they have to replace the  umbilical cord between the L-1011 and the Pegasus. So we'll wait 48 hours and see. But if thing does not proceed then we will have to seriously consider renaming the dinner "The Third Annual We're Tired of Waiting For Launch Lunch." This will necessitate redoing all the invites and redrinking all the toasts. 

But the real reason for the delay (which nobody else knows) is that one of the computers here, used to relay data back to mission control, lost its netport card and so couldn't communicate but in its last gasp was able to get a message back to the Pegasaurous to break something important, tho not critical, in order to give us time to find the problem here in something that had been just tested and found to be Ok.

Blue Moonday, 30 June 1996, How does that song go?

A second full moon in one month occurs once in a blue moon, or every 2.7 years--when it is said that a blue moon happens only once every couple of years it must be remembered that is true for any month-- this blue moon is in June, the next one might be in February, 1999. But for any *given* month, that is to say, the next time a blue moon will happen in june, will not be for about eight years!

Launch Day, July 2, 1996, The Pegasaurous Finally Flies

--McMurdo is Go For Launch.

Finally, after more than two years of practicing, TOMS-EP has launched. All the practice of tracking COBE by manually steering the antenna and the delays resulting from one thing or another paid off in a "nominal" launch. Too bad we had only one bottle of champagne.

The greatest moment of anxiety, for me anyhow, was waiting for the moment when TOMS-EP came over the horizon for that first pass. Was it late? Had it already gone by? Were we pointed in the right direction? Should I start now to sweep the antenna around to look for a signal? Wait! There it is! I see it! --We have lock! (You have to remember you're dealing with a FNGy at this--notwithstanding all the practice over the course of three winters at McMurdo this is the first time I have participated in a launch that actually placed a bird in orbit.) 

The rest of that first pass was mostly uneventful once we figured out why the data was getting stuck at the BitSync. Turns out the bits were sinking rather than sync-ing if you get my meaning, but with that fixed the data flowed over the internet to Goddard Space Flight Center where it was converted from internet packets to NASCOM blocks and then sent to the Toms Mission Operations Control Center. Now it can be safely announced that Friday's dinner was to celebrate. Here is a place where you can see more about Ozone Holes and the TOMS-Earth Probe.

Thursday thru Sunday, July 7, 1996, 4th - Picnic and Recovery

As is usual, the picnic of the fourth is held on Friday in the Heavy Shop. That's the big garage where the trucks and loaders are repaired. All the vehicles are moved out and the empty bays are set up for a traditional fourth of july picnic--as traditional as such an event can be without kids and dogs and fireworks. A couple of whole pigs were roasted in the welding shop and there was some sort of peppery bean soup. I missed out on the potato salad but I did get a slice of the red-white-blue birthday cake. But then the band got started and that was cause for me to leave. Band is not a proper term to describe this bunch, there was no brass beyond a pair of caterwauling harm-onicas. Plenty of heavy bass but no om-pah...

This weeks new word is swinge, as in --I'll give you a swinge!

Sunday, 21 July, 1996, Here Comes The Sun (still)

We are getting a glimmer of red and orange to the north at mid-day now; only four weeks to the onslaught of germs and mail, freshies and fingies, at Winfly. The w/o manager just resigned and is leaving then--that's the latest news--he has taken on a teaching position in Michigan and has to get from here on the first plane out to there to give his first class before the end of August. He's already working on his lesson plans. This place is going to hell in a handcart as the saying goes, downhill really fast. I wonder if the situation here is indicative of business generally in America or if this company is particularly screwed up or are we all just toast. ASA has just contracted out the operation of the power and water plants to a specialist firm. I suppose that means "they" can do it for less money, they certainly can't do the job any better than its being done now. The galley has already gone that way and talk has it that the fire department will follow. The view from where I sit is that it means greater fractionalisation of the work force and lower salaries since there will be yet another layer or two of administration and management to wade through in order to get anything accomplished. Makes no sense whatever.  One thing I really am having fun with is the AFAN Radio Station. Sunday evenings from eight to midnight its the Partly Mozart Sunday Programme and I get to sit there and spin the old vinyl platters at 33-1/3 RPM. Tune your dial to 104.5 for four hours of scratchy hiss and popping crackles classical--Beethoven's best on PMS.

Monday, 22 July 1996, Up On The Wrong Side of My Bed

Is today a holiday? It should be. No, no holiday, it's the third Aquarian moon-rising on the half-sun of Jupiter, aka Monday, no holiday, just a regular workaday workaday. I guess it was the Aquarian part. I had it as Agrarian--that's what I get for trying to reuse my calendars with the prettiest pictures from one year to the next--and I felt like tihs this morning. Much better now that I went got up all over again, from the right side of my bed this time.

Tuesday, 23 July 1996, Spanish Class

Es Julio.

The Spanish phrase for the day is:

"`Lo uniquo que tenemos que tenerle miedo es su mismo miedo.' Which means: `The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.' Fear of falling in a crack in the ice. Fear of going to another town meeting. Fear of smacking someone before winfly and getting canned. Fear of getting bumped at bag drag once to many times. Fear of the hot water running out while taking a shower. Fear of getting a roommate at winfly. Fear of getting a roommate who snores at winfly. Fear of not getting a banana at winfly. Fear of losing all of your underwear from the laundry room. Fear of losing your passport before you leave. Fear of getting stuck in the sauna with someone with bad B.O. Fear of telling someone above you where they can go and losing your bonus. Fear of The Coffee House running out of wine. Fear of someone reading all the stuff you have written on the e-mail and making it public. Fear of e-mail going down during break. Fear of having to see a shrink when you get out of here. Fear that main-body will never get here... Franklin Delano Roosevelt never wintered in Antarctica. Am I right or what? Chico.over." 

Chico is a writer and artist undercover here as an insulation specialist--he insulates. He insulates the water pipes from the cold and the exhaust pipes from the people; he insulates the peas from the carrots and the outside from the inside. The one thing Chico does not insulate is us from each other; his Spanish class is sometimes held twice a week, (At least once a week at the Wine Bar, eh?) and his cartoons and essays are forever reminding us that penguins have the right of way even when they are not in the crosswalks. And now I've gone and plagerised his email and made it public.

Sunday, July 28, 1996, the Coldest Time of the Year

The glimmer of red at mid-day has expanded from late morning to early afternoon and the sky is light enough at noon to extinguish all but the brightest stars. Mount Discovery and Black Island are visible across McMurdo Sound, the bananas are not far away now.

Tuesday, 30.7.96, The tag end of Winter drags on...

I have not sent the next letter yet--maybe not for another month. There is little to write about now, we are all in the depth of winter, probly the most depressing time of the year. Air drop which didn't happen is past and the first flights of the new season are ahead. Soon excitement will build as we get closer to that reality but right now it is just a glimmer on the horizon as the sun slowly returns. It is, at the same time, exciting to think about getting out of here and depressing to come to terms with what is out there to go to--depressing to consider leaving this safe closed childlike existence and exciting to consider the adventures that wait in the Spring and Summer ahead.

Wednesday, 31.7.96 ... and on...

I am getting so inured with this place that I actually went to the aerobics place and spent an hour trotting on the treadmill and tolerating a high-tech rowing device. We had a much simpler rowing machine at Palmer. It was a bicycle wheel with 3x5 inch paddles welded round the rim and a spring-returned chain which came out to the "oars". When you pulled on the oars the wheel went round and the paddles moved the air and gave you a breeze and a bit of a rushing sound. For more work you shifted gears, and moved more air. The best part was the breeze. With this fancy one at McMurdo you first have to plug it in and turn it on. It looks like a video game and flashes the top score "Honor Roll" among screens that show figures rowing shells between wooded banks with distance markers going past. When you press the it requires to know if you are a novice or a pro, then how far to row, and how hard to work... Finally, after nearly wearing out my index digit, I get to pull on the oars ... and a rushing sound comes out of a speaker. But there is no breeze. 

Sunday, 4th August, McMurdo Winter-Over Art Show.

I made seventy-two bread sticks and two large braided loafs, one of four strands, the other of six. Marci, the baker, helped with the gear shift on the big mixer--its a four-on-the-side standard and you have  to shut of the motor *before* you work the shifter--and with the plaiting of the strands. The bread sticks had basil and tarragon and cheddar and cayenne mixed in and went very well with the wine  available at the Wine Bar exhibit. While I was waiting for the dough to rise I read from one of Marci's breadbooks about the history of yeast and sour-dough and the evolution of ovens.

Thursday, August 8, 1996, Glen -Short Order- Egg-McMurdo

You want two over !what?! A small omelette in a bowl please? 'morning-The usual? {nod} ... Such is the conversation on Thursday mornings when Glen works the grill. We haven't had any real cackle- berries since about half past May except for the dozen I stashed early on so I could make pickled eggs a few times during the winter. Fresh eggs are one of the things, like bananas, we are all eagerly anticipating as our reward for tolerating the influx of fingies due to arrive on the first plane. Overnight the queue in the galley will double in length. 

During the Winter Glen typically makes twenty omelettes a day, and maybe 25 egg-McMurdos (his recipe: start a split bagel toasting on the grill and beside it put a half scoop of "egg product". Sprinkle some mixed cheddars on the egg and put a slice each of Swiss and American on the bagel parts. Add a thick slice of Canadian bacon beside the egg product. When the egg is done fold it in half and layer it onto the bagel with the bacon.) Some folks get two to go in their tupperware take-aways.

Good grease, worth getting up on Thursday mornings for.

Glen says he can tell something about the parties the night before by how quiet breky is and the consumption of orange juice. Generally speaking the quieter it is the more OJ gets consumed--both bespeak of a plenitude of parties. After watching Glen greet his guests at the grill for a few minutes I asked him if he knows all of the winter- over population by name. --Most everyone, he said, but I know a lot of people by what they always eat. As he said that he glanced at the clock and started a rather large omelette with a handful of chopped ham, onion, pepper, cheese. Just as it was cooked to a turn a man came in and picked up a tray. Glen plopped the omelette on the passing tray, exchanging little more than a nod with its bearer and turned to me: --Just like clockwork.

A Hagglunds in a track vehicle we have several of. The one I traveled in today is Orange, known as Hagglund-zero-two, powered by a Mercedes Diesel. Hagglunds is a smallish vehicle, more like a Tucker Sno-cat than a Thiokol Spryte, it has a steering wheel and two cabins--the front seats four but could hold six if four of them had only one leg each, the back is connected to the front by a hydraulic articulator that transmits power to the rear tracks and effects the steering. Our trip was to visit the Barne Glacier down beyond the Cape Evans Hut, that's about eighteen miles north of Winter Quarters Bay, so the Winter-Over artist Dave Rosenthal could catch the "pre- dawn" light on the Barne Glacier and the north slopes of Erebus.

We got off to a late start due to a leaky fuel line (--Is that the same problem that plagued the Hagglunds which burned up over at Scott Base a few weeks back?) and I remembered the last time I traveled in one of these contraptions was back in the Winter of eighty and eight when the transmission couldn't keep up with the engine and we had to be towed in from half way to Black Island. Finally it was nearly time to have lunch but instead we topped up the two twenty-five gallon fuel tanks and headed out between the Water Plant Intake and the Sewer Plant Outfall onto the sea ice. 

The runway lights of Pegasus twinkled in the distance in anticipation of c-141's soon to arrive and an orange glow on the horizon marked where the sun was rolling along only a few degrees below the horizon. The sea ice is about forty-six inches thick here, new ice since the bay was entirely open by the end of last Summer in January. But there is movement in the ice and great cracks open and close throughout the Winter. We were only about a half a mile out, at the right turn to go north, when Sarah stopped to check a crack that has been healing.

According to the Global Positioning System satellite navigation receiver we were located at 77s50'01.449" and 166e35'40.341"

This one has new ice thirty inches thick between edges two feet apart. Such a crack is easily spanned by the tracks of the Hagglunds and we went on after drilling three holes. There were numerous other cracks along the way, all less than a foot and fairly old except for one other that we stopped to drill, until a couple of miles north of the hut at Cape Evans where we came to one that is quite new. Last week there was open water between edges four feet apart, now the water is mostly bridged by new snow, slushy in some spots, and certainly not negotiable by our vehicle. 

Where we stopped there were two holes being kept open by seals; at one a young Weddell was on top of the ice, while at the other just the seal's nose and eyes were visible in the dark cold water. The air temperature here was -6f, the water +29f. We left the Hagglunds and jumped the crack to walk the rest of the way to the Barne Glacier. From this vantage one could see the sea-smoke above the open water another five miles north. The Hagglunds is supposed to be able to float and its tracks are said to be able paddle along in the water but I am sure it does not have enough fuel to get all the way to Christchurch. 

After a while of Sarah drilling a few more holes and Dave making a few sketches and me taking a few ephotos--the light was somewhat less than excellent--we turned back past Big and Little Razorback Islands and returned to McMurdo. We'll try again in a few days.

Friday, August 16, 1996, Good, Friday!

Susan writes: Geeze....truly outrageous Homepage there suga...

Thanks Susan! Happy to be of service.

Today I am considering the possibilities of commencing to initiate further recalcitration before announcing plans for a prepacking conference wherein the main topic of discussion will be a first round elimination of things to not include on a manifest to be submitted to non-binding arbitration with the Volume and Capacity Measurements and Sherpas Society prior to actually getting down to the business of seriously making adjustments to my attitude about packing light.

Tuesday, August 20, 1996, First Day of WinFly...

Last Day of Winter was yesterday, to day there is wine at the store. The slide-bar at the side, the side-slide-bar, as opposed to the side-to-side slide-bar which is at the bottom, is almost to the bottom. That is usually a good indicator that your printer is about to run out of paper so I should close this missal and see if my Pegasus can do as good a job of launching it as its cousin at Vandenburg did with the TOMS-EP satellite.

I believe all grown-ups have beans in their ears. 

And the plane just landed. I wonder if there is any mail for me?

Stay Gold, Love, me

Back to Oso

Back to ajo
Copyright (c) 2002 A.J.Oxton The Cat Drag'd Inn