Travels With Oso con Migo

Winter In The Ross Island Dependency

OAE At The Bleak Island Monastic Brotherhood Of Seers

October 16, 1996, last letter August 20, 1996

Gentle Readers,

Wednesday, August 21, 1996, The Second Day of WinFly...

I received two letters in the snailmail. One from Doug in Yellowstone and one from Gopu in Erode. Lots to ponder. Doug sent a photo of him having lunch with President Clinton at Yellowstone National Park and I thought about the inter-connectivity of all of us in this world. It has been said by one wag or another how every one in the world knows someone important through the connectivity of three or four others. So now we have this little seven year-old in Erode only two people removed from Clinton. Fascinating, eh? So I have to think about the substance of a paper letter vs the essence of a virtual letter. The news of family that Ann-Marie writes from her account on Compuserve is not unlike what I read in the Electronic Telegraph from London or the San Jose Mercury--almost as disembodied. But the letters from Doug and Gopu, while worlds apart in their origins, have the commonality of substance--the handwriting they contain, the ink and paper, the touch of humanity not conveyed by email.

Thursday (Sunday), August 22, 1996, Hut Point Illuminated.

She'll be comin' 'round the mountain when she comes... A couple of days late but as the saying goes, better late than never. Despite the chill wind I can feel her warmth on my face and I can still see the after-image burned into my retina from the long stare. The road out past the Ice Pier to Hut Point has not seen such traffic since the container ship Greenwave was here for off-load January last. Pickups, vans, a road-grader; the Fire Department sent Engine One.

The coffee service at Telco has not been used since Rex left at station closing. It looks like it has not been cleaned since he had the last cup then either. At least someone shut it off. A thick black residue coats the inside of the pot and the grounds and filter paper have been all but consumed by some festering tenticled monster thing that growled at me when I dislodged it from its residence in the basket. I fought back with an army of suds made up of the best Bon Amie substitute and a sponge that had seen better days. It was a pitched battle that was going against me until Mitch brought up reserves of hot water to dissolve the opposition. We should have saved the remains--Rex likes his coffee strong.

We have a database management tool here called MapCon that is supposed to track parts and stock, trouble calls and work orders, ordering and shipping. Everything has a MapCon Number pasted on it. Over the past few weeks this inventory has reached the point where the water coolers and emergency lights and exit signs are getting MapCon'd. I asked a woman who was passing through my space what the number was for. Some of the things they are tagging are not worth the cost of tracking. --Its not that, she said, but so when you call the trouble-desk and report the bulb is out they'll know which one it is.

So instead of my reporting to the TroubleDesk that the exit sign at the top of the back stairs in building 156 has a bulb out I just report that MPC4269 has a problem and when they turn to "The Computer" with MPC4269 MapCon will tell them that the exit sign at the top of the back stairs in building 156 has a bulb out. And then we go back to the bulb changing storey in my letter number 13.

Jeff writes that he envies my freedom to work as I will and run off on long vacations ... "But, it comes at a price doesn't it? Guess I am addicted enough to middle class America and a steady job and a house to go home to not to be willing to pay the price it takes to get your freedom."

Yes, and the price is very high. As much as you envy my freedom I envy your security. But for each of us what we have is illusion, what we envy is ours for the taking. Same game--different rules. One of the things I am always reminded of is that I know my job is a contract with a fixed term--this time the contract ends 11th November, give or take a few days.

***** Annual Winter Over Awards Ceremony *****

By special act of Congress, dating from back in the old days when this occupation of Ross Island was called Operation Deep Freeze by the U.S. Navy (and they still refer to it that way) and non-military persons were the minority, the Antarctic Service Medal has been awarded to civilians who participate in the programme. Additionally, when you stay through the Austral Winter a "Winter-Over" bar is added. Bronze for the first winter, gold for the second winter, silver for the third. (Given the real value of gold and silver as precious metals can anyone tell me by what logic silver enjoys the most prestigious place of honour in this scheme?) The table that follows shows how many folks have been awarded the Antarctic Service Medal.
Medals  US civilians = 9153  Military (estimate) = 45,000 TOT >55,000
1st W/O bar          = 1657                      =  4,000     < 6,000
2nd W/O bar          =  302                      =    260     >   600
3rd W/O bar          =  113                      =     20     }
4th W/O              =   29                      =      0     }
5th W/O              =    7                      =      0     }
6th W/O              =    9                      =      0     }
7th W/O              =    2                      =      0     }
8th W/O              =    1                      =      0     }
9th W/O              =    1                      =      0     }
10thW/O              =    0                      =      0     }  162
The number of Americans who have spent 3 or more W/Os in Antarctica (McMurdo, Palmer, South Pole, Siple?now closed) add up to only 162 of which 52 were in attendance. This is a very exclusive group.

Saturday 24.8.96, The Best Days of Winfly

I am taking a perverse delight in that the plane had the two best days of WinFly to sit on the ground in Christchurch with mechanical problems. Seems its nose wheel was damaged when it landed here and they had to manually retract it for the flight north. To make matters worse the part to fix the giant snoblower to clear the runway of all the new snow we are now having is on the plane that will not be able to land until the runway is clear.

I suppose if the priority were on freshies and mail and the PAX were secondary I might be willing to help shovel the snow but if we have to have PAX first and then bananas I can hold out a while longer.

Sunday, 25.8.96 Who Said It Never Rains In Antarctica

We had some pretty tough wx here over the weekend. Worst of the winter. Actually got to condition 1 for a while. Ninety kts in town, well over 100 at Black Island and on the hilltops around town. Flooding in the telco office blew a circuit breaker and took out the satellite service for an hour or so while we shoveled snow out of the multiplex rack and from the air-handler plenum above the drop ceiling. It reminded me of the time at the Mount Washington Observatory when the drop ceiling in the new Sherman Adams Summit Building got so soggy from leaks in the roof that several tiles came crashing down on John Howe's head as he sat at the Weather Desk. No tiles came down here; we removed several of them and arranged catchment and channels to direct the melting snow into buckets. In the cargo yard pallets are scattered about and two small buildings, temporary construction or science huts on steel skids, were tipped over and broken apart. A section of siding on Dorm 205 was ripped away in the night however the building was unoccupied.

We have these doors, old doors that work, on many of the old buildings. Big heavy wood doors with brass bolts and hasps, handles big enough to grasp with mitten'd hand. Doors set in over-large jambs, with no sills to clog with snow. Doors that must be closed against the wind and latched by Humans who have that presence of mind and cultural sensitivity. One by one, as the old buildings are replaced or remodeled, these old functional doors are replaced with steel (code qualified fire retardent steel) doors which when newly installed in their snug fitting steel framed jambs and sills close on their own by means of a carefully adjusted hydraulic door-closer with a snick-click like the door closing on a finely crafted custom automobile. Until the first time the wind blows and the snow snows and the temperature colds.

Then the wind holds the door open cos the door-closer is not Humanly smart enough to compensate. The snow packs in to the sill and the jamb making the door all the harder to slam--springing the hinges and placing such tension on the catch and the strike-plate that mittened hands have a hard time on the slippery smooth small round doorknobs-- and so when you give up and leave the door open in the wind (maybe to go off and hunt up a shovel and a puttyknife--ever try to find a puttyknife in a place that does not employ a glazier...) someone comes running out of an office to admonish that you forgot to close the door--that you have to close the door.... I look them in the eye and tell them to remove the stupid door-closer; to put back the door that could be closed.

And even more hilarious is when the engineers demand these door- closers on the doors of buildings that get really cold. Then the oil in the door-closer's hydraulics gets thick and you cannot open the door without a mighty shove--and that rips the screws holding the door-closer right out of the sheet metal frame... HA! But do they learn? No. Now they want to put sensors on the doors to remotely report that the doors are closed and on top of that they want to install video to check on the veracity of the sensors. It would be simpler just to leave the old doors.

Monday, 26.8.96 New High Temperature Record For Today

High temp for Monday was +25f, a new record at McMurdo for date and for the month of August.

Thursday, August 29, 1996, Ok-Ok I take back all the bad things.

Now just give me a banana! Please?

The last plane brought what every Winter Over wants most: The mail that has been waiting since the airdrop that didn't happen, except for me... no telling where all my mail is :~( and the freshies. Green and red apples, yellow bananas, green and red grapes, fuzzy kiwis, orange oranges, cukes, carrots, broccoli, potatoes. Yum! Pig Out On Roughage--Fiber City! And with that I am now officially a short timer here, ten weeks to go.

Wednesday, September 4, 1996, Keeping me in stitches. Ouch!

Doc Z., I was told, would use lots of Lidocane since she was not allowed any sharp knives. Always up for a new adventure, or a new magazine, and since new magazines are in such short supply I'll take the adventure and pick up an old magazine. A wart of some sort has been growing on my left elbow for some time now, a few weeks anyhow, and after some discussions about picking at it, freezing with liquid nitrogen, or excising it with a scalpel, I chose the latter. The removal of this growth did not leave as big a hole as the time I had a wart removed from my foot a hundred years ago and Doc Z put it in a little bottle to send north for autopsy. Five stitches closed the hole and a Snoopy plaster covered them and I was ready to go.

Friday, September 6, 1996, Getting Shorter... Ei8ht Weeks.

Tony says he smokes less at the end of the winter than he did at the beginning. Every winter is the same way. Cigarettes don't last as long at the end of the winter as they did at the start; seems that by the end of the winter they're all dried out and burn faster. And they work best when your laying down--so all the tobacco doesn't fall out.

The TOMS-EP satellite is producing daily ozone charts of The Hole. The charts are updated about every ninety minutes, at the end of each pass over the McMurdo Ground Station. From the above link you can find your way to the TOMS page and see the whole earth view of what the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer-Earth Probe sees.

Friday, September 20, 1996, ... and shorter...

What time is it?
Well all that other stuff is just fine, 
but myself, 
I'll go for that cuppa of wine 
any old time, 
wow I made a rhyme.
              --Tony (NailBender) Marchetti, w/o96mcm
distributed as a public service by ajo poetry ltd.

Sunday, 22nd September, Sunrise at South Pole obscured by fog.

1 October, TOMS-EP is doing well

Did you all get my messages with the URL of the oZone maps. There is a pass every 90 minutes and the URL image is updated a few minutes after LOS. Quite impressive. For the first time in three years of fooling around here I feel a sense of satisfaction and completion. I guess that is one of the things that is helping me know I have had enough of this place and now it is time to move on. It is interesting that I didn't recognise that from the earlier days; it takes until now for me to see what I have been trying to do or why I have been coming back, all this time.

Spring-Ahead Day on Ross Island

It seems that as the sun rises higher and the days get longer here then they have fewer and fewer hours. The hurrier I go the behinder I get.

Thursday, 16th October, B.I.M.B.O.S. Reprise

Time to get this letter in the mail and this person on the road. I am making one last visit to Black Island to help with opening the place for another summer of unoccupancy. Time to shift gears, change style, embrace a new outlook. I feel some profound changes in the wind, I have a feeling that if I don't find my own Way out of this rut I am going to get kicked out of it, or plucked out of it, maybe to find a new rut, maybe to wonder around for a while.

Stay Gold, bcnu, Love, me

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