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where is my mind?

In the film “Memento”, Guy Pearce plays a character with no short term memory. He carries a Polaroid camera and makes notes on the photos in order to fill in the gaps in his memory. “This is my car” one says. Another: “This is where I live.” I need to start doing this. I have…no memory. This place just sucks it out of me. It could be the 10+ hour days, or the endless event calendar that I (overachiever) can’t seem to say “no” to. Or maybe it’s the constant sunlight. I have a dark, thick, wool blanket thumb-tacked over the window in my room, which helps keep it dark at night, but it also keeps in all the heat. I woke up at three o’clock this morning and it was 90F. We can’t control the temperatures in our rooms, except by opening the window. Dehydration is probably a factor as well. I drink about seven Nalgenes of water a day. It’s not enough. Whatever, with the heat and light disturbing my sleep, the dry air sucking moisture from every pore, the late nights and the dance parties, the 10 hours a day organizing operations in the galley, the volunteering in the carp shop and with the shuttles dept., I am mentally…gone. I’m kind of turning into an Antarctic zombie. If I don’t write it down or do it immediately, it’s gone. And even when I write it down, I forget to look at my to-do list. Inspiration and motivation, too, have fled. I’m tired. The last thing I want to do when I finish work is to sit at a computer and write coherently (let alone eloquently) about what I’ve done all day. But certain things must be documented. It’s been a busy couple of months…

– Thanksgiving!
I ran the 5k Turkey Trot race, served up massive quantities of turkey and stuffing and pie, and then crashed on the floor of a friend’s lounge, wrapped up in my duvet, dozing through the Lord of the Rings. Walking back to my dorm after the movie, the strap to my flip-flop broke, and I had to limp back with only one shoe. Two observations about being barefoot in Antarctica: 1) volcanic rocks are sharp; 2) after about two minutes you’ve forgotten how sharp the rocks are because your foot has gone numb (and 3: barefoot in Antarctica…ha!).

– Runway Testing at Pegasus
Was asked to work for a day with Fleet Ops (the crew that maintains the runways and drives all the heavy equipment), performing density tests on the Pegasus white-ice runway (the only one like it in the world!). Drove a truck up and down the runway, stopping at certain coordinates to measure how many taps it took to drive an RSP (Russian S-something Penetrometer, a 3 foot long, 1 cm thick steel needle) 120mm into the snow on the runway’s surface. The runway’s 15 miles out of town, on the permanent ice of the Ross Ice Shelf – town looks like a tiny smear in the distance. Lovely to be OUT, even nicer to be out AND performing essential tests on a runway…in Antarctica. As a thank you for my help, Rudy (one of the Fleet Ops crew) brought me out to the runway’s namesake: the wreckage of a Navy airplane (the Pegasus) that crashed during landing perhaps thirty years ago. I climbed on the partially buried Navy plane and carved my name among the others on the tail and body – making my mark on history.

– “TNT…dyn-o-mite!”
There’s ongoing construction outside my dorm. The Fleet Ops blasting crew is gradually leveling a hill, piece by piece, to make room for a new addition to the Science Support Center. The ground’s so frozen that it takes explosives to break it up into movable chunks of volcanic rock. They’ve been blasting every day for the past three weeks – and on one particular day, I was the one pushing the detonator! Marty, the blasting supervisor, sat next to me on the C-17 that brought me down here, and offered me the job of “guest blaster”. Yay connections! “Blasting in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – fire in the hole!” And then KABOOOOOM. I even got to keep a blasting cap as a souvenir.

– Pressure Ridge Hike
Over the hill, on the ice shelf near Scott Base, gigantic frozen waves stand, blue and icy. Tidal movement far below the surface drives the seasonal sea ice into the permanent ice shelf, lifting these wave-like pressure ridges that shift a little bit with each tide. Scott Base staff maintain a trail that winds between, over and around the one-foot to four-meters high ridges. It’s typically off limits to the Americans, due to certain individuals behaving badly in the past, but I won a spot on a guided hike of these gorgeous, impressive phenomena. I got three hours off of work to wander through this blue wonderland of ice and snow and abstract sculptures. It’s magic, the way a short walk changes one’s perspective. As one janitor in my group said, “THIS is why I clean toilets!”

– Women’s Soiree
An annual event featuring the talents of McMurdo’s ladies…belly dancing, guitars and singing, tap dancing, poetry recitation, acapella, jazz dancing, a musical performance on a stand-up base – and the finale: yours truly and six other women, lip-syncing, dancing, and acting to “Cell Block Tango” from the film “Chicago”. If you’ve seen the movie, you’re thinking, “Woah…Catherine Zeta-Jones, tango, black lace and lingerie, sex and violence and sensuality…oh my!” It wasn’t quite up to Catherine ZJ standards, but it was still pretty hot. We’d spent three weeks choreographing and learning tango, and it paid off marvellously.

– Christmas!
First, there was the huge holiday party, in the Vehicle Maintenance Facility (VMF) with food and dancing and Santa Claus posing for pictures on a snowmobile. I’ve been taking swing dancing lessons from a good friend, and this was the perfect venue to unveil my new skills: being flung in the air, flipped and tossed and spun, kicking and smiling and loving every minute of it.

The next night – Christmas Eve! I went camping. Yup. CAMPING. Sleeping outside, in Antarctica, on Xmas Eve. Oh, wow. Not far out of town, just a couple of miles out onto the permanent shelf ice, where they typically teach the snow survival classes. I hiked out with another DA after work and just enjoyed…it was a warmish night, perhaps 15F. No wind, and low clouds to make the sunlight seem dimmer, almost like it was setting. I sat out around the cooking stove with friends, melting snow for hot chocolate, snacking on stale granola bars and PB&J, loving it. Slept with Dana, my fellow DA inside a quinzhee (snow mound). Surprisingly warm, though a little cramped. You’ll have to check out the pictures – my powers of description are feeling a bit strained. Waking up in the morning to hike back into town was like being reborn. I can’t begin to explain the wonder of knowing that it was Christmas and that I was in Antarctica. I slid out of the quinzhee and saw nothing but white – the clouds had closed in, and large, soft snowflakes were floating by on the wind. A cold start, but the simple joy that came from having been outdoors for the last 12 hours (the longest I’ve been outside in nearly five months) was all I needed to carry me back to town.

As a thank you for recent hard work, Jennifer, my (wonderful!) supervisor gave me the option of taking either Xmas day or New Year’s Day off – with the rest of town! I chose Xmas. What a novelty, having a day off at the same time as the rest of the community! After unloading my camping gear, I sat at brunch for two hours, talking to friends, relaxing, basking in the community holiday spirit. As I had the afternoon off, I was able to be pulled into an interesting McMurdo tradition: Santarctica. One participant described it as “beautiful mayhem”. Picture it: 20 or so McMurdians dressed in Santa suits and elf costumes (hats, beards, jingly bells, shoes, the works), running around like maniacs, chanting “ho ho ho!” and cheering, playing impromptu games like “Red Rover”, making appearances at: rugby practice; brunch; the weight gym; the computer kiosk (among other places). This year the event planners stepped it up a notch…this year, Santarctica created Art. Way out of town, near the Pegasus runway, NSF-funded artists had created an installation piece on the ice: The Stellar Axis. 99 large, blue spheres placed within an (approx) 100 meter square area, each sphere intended to represent the 99 brightest stars in the southern hemisphere on the summer solstice (Dec 21). That’s the artist statement. The practical description is this: 99 blue balls scattered randomly across the ice, like a handful of marbles dropped from the sky. What better place to unleash 20 Santas and their elves for a little mayhem? It was two hours of singing, running, frolicking, cartwheeling, snowball-fighting and human-pyramid building. It was a beautiful thing. Cold, windy, snowy, and exhausting, but great fun.

– New Year’s!
Finally. The last, and most recent event of note. What can I say? There was dancing, champagne, and carousing…inside an empty fuel tank. A very under-the-radar event, a secret well kept until about 9pm on the night itself. The bottom line, though: I said hello to the New Year from Antarctica. Antarctica!

The end.

(new pictures to supplement: http://community.webshots.com/user/susanm483)

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