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395 to 1075 in 2.5 weeks

A helicopter landed outside of my window two nights ago. The thumping, room shaking sound of its rotors was like an alarm clock jarring one out of a sound sleep: disorienting, confusing, frightening. “Wake up!” It said. “It’s mainbody!”

If the three helicopters arriving at the heli-pad less than a hundred feet from my window were an alarm waking me from the deep, satisfying sleep of winfly, then yesterday and today have been the equivalent of the early morning stumble to the bathroom. Everything is painfully bright; my head is fuzzy and full of dark thoughts about being out of my warm bed; seeing even a single person standing at the bathroom sink is too many. On Tuesday morning of last week, there were 395 individuals residing at McMurdo. By Tuesday afternoon, there were nearly 500. Poor weather on Wednesday and Thursday put a temporary hold on the onslaught, but Friday dawned clear and Saturday clearer. Three planes between those two days brought the population to a seemingly seam-bursting 678. Fasten your seat belts, kids. From zero to sixty in fractions of a second. Warp speed, dead ahead!

New people. And lots of ‘em. I’m feeling shell-shocked, slightly (recent experiments in sleep deprivation and all-night dance marathons have probably contributed to this). The winter-overs…I think they’re in hiding. I’ve seen my few winter friends who are still in residence. I’m put off balance by the changes; some of them are close to unhinged, although they are buoyed by the fact that they are days away from getting on a plane themselves.  I, on the other hand, look around and see four long months with these indistinct shapes and figures who are my future, and I mourn for the days past.  When we (winter/winfly people) meet in the galley or in the bar our eyes are panicked, glazed until we make eye contact and cling gratefully to each other for the rest of the night, protecting one another from the rough, featureless blur of unfamiliar faces. Change is scary.

How quickly things change. Six weeks ago I was as shiny and new as the recent arrivals – newer, even. I’m still a FNG, whereas many of the “new” people have decades of Antarctic time under their belts. And yet I’ve developed a fierce possessiveness for the town, the people, the places. Who’s hung their coat on my hook?  How dare she sit at my table? I remember my first week here.  The winter-overs spoke in riddles, inside jokes, and told raucous stories of departed friends.  It was a wall, carefully and deliberately built in order to preserve their separateness from the newcomers, the interlopers.  It was self-preservation, I realize now, and understand, at least on some small scale.  Goodbyes are hard.  And when followed immediately with two to three hundred new “hellos,” the sadness overwhelms: an emptiness.

Lighter and lighter – the days are growing.  Sun rise: 5:34 AM.  Sun set: 9:54 PM, though the colors from both events spread and glow for hours when the skies are clear.  I’m going to miss the colors in the sky.  We’ve bid farewell to the stars.  The dead of night is now little more than dusk.  And it’s heating up.  +12F (-11C) today.  When the wind is still, the air actually feels warm on my face.  The snow on my dorm melts in the sun and then refreezes, forming icicles in the cold air.  It’s the end of winfly, and the start of mud season.  Nearly two months down…

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