Posted by: Genevieve | November 3, 2013

Flux Capacity and Beyond!

An update may be in order.

The season is underway. I remain in McMurdo.

The vagaries and quick changes of Antarctic weather over on this coast performed heroic feats on behalf of the several hundred of us who had lost our jobs in the shutdown, as we headed quickly to caretaker status. Delay after delay, plan after plan, weather incursion after visibility breakdown, and there we were, having only lost one plane load of folks this far.

Then the government got back in business, and the NSF shifted back into gear and we were back up. Thank goodness for Antarctic weather.

But it was a helluva ride and we lost folks, pissed off even more, destroyed a good few. Our capacity to exist in a sucking vacuum of ignorance and rumour, squatting in our small community knowing not our futures on the individual level, and even less so on the larger US Antarctic Program level, many of us having been fired, or seemingly so, took us to the brink. We were angry, resentful, depressed, looking for reasons and conspiracies and someone to hate, reasons we were chosen, and every day the measurements of these emotions fluctuated wildly. Some of us were turned around in various airports as we headed south, by text messages eliminating our positions, our trajectories, or even stopped by a boarding pass scan, by a gate agent who told us we had no seat and to go fetch our bags, and yes, that angry group of people over there are probably yours.

There are so many stories, so many broken hearts. So many of those turned around in Christchurch and flown back home have been turned around again and made it in to McMurdo to start, to restart, to jump start a crippled season. This week has been flights full of people here to start a season, a month late. With that influx of population has come freshies, but also lines at the computer kiosk and confused people trying to figure out the galley layout, noise at meals louder and louder. Some the noise of FNGs, some the noise of an increased number of eaters socializing, some the noise of relief.

When we were called to our last All Hands, amidst rumours that in our overnight the government had struck a deal and the USAP had posted something on their website, and we were told that we were once more shifting gears, starting the USAP back up, doing what we came here to do, there were cheers and applause. And that level of relief meant laughter at meals, animated conversations in the halls. We could look forward to our season, to friends coming back, or getting here.

We could get back to work.

I had been here 2 weeks by the time it sorted, I had gone to work almost every day I was here, but my head had not been in the game. I think few of us had our heads in the game. What could I invest in a season when it was being torn from me, I was being rejected ejected subjected to the unknown?

It has been two weeks now, and I have been back at work. I have been in McMurdo a month, but I only feel I have truly worked, with the eager devotion I have for my job these last few weeks post upset. I know, weird. I love my job, I love my department, I love my supervisors and bosses. I am happy to be here. I am happy to once more be truly here, working long hours, sleeping long hours, and laughing hard and frequently at my co-workers’ antics. I enjoy going to work.

I am once more learning when to get up, when to eat, when to do my laundry, when to go to bed, how often to get online, when to watch Farscape with friends. Habits are forming, and the Halloween party is past. Yes, the season is underway and I am still here.

And in all this work, and laughter, and habit-forming of a new season, there is Antarctica: Effortlessly blowing my mind as I turn the pickle (a small loader) for downhill and face the horizon, the views of Mount Discovery, the sea ice, Black and White Islands, the glaciers carving their way down through the white and blue of the Royal Society Range…all that familiar beauty that smites my heart with joy.

Yesterday, Saturday, the last day of a long unusual week, I woke and dressed in the dark (my roommate has a different schedule than I do), and emerged out onto a town dressed clean again, white again, snow. A few inches of fresh snow had fallen in the night, and was still falling gently in tiny tiny flakes, coating every surface, and the world was right again, white again, head to toe. It was warm, the wind was down, the world was soft and bright from sky to ground to loader to building.

But as I left the Halloween party and walked up the hill, the clouds had risen, the snow had ceased and the entire panorama view of ice and snow and glacier and mountain range and cloud was magically revealed. Lenticular clouds stacked to the side of Discovery, golden peachy light shining off distant glaciers, the sea ice reflecting low sunlight revealing the patterns of the ice, the muscular white folds of White Island gentled by a soft cover of new snow.

A swift open-mouthed inhalation crisped my lungs as I recognized the Antarctica of my love, the Antarctica that leaves me crippled with emotions inexpressible.

Yeah, let’s get this season underway, shall we?

Posted by: Genevieve | October 11, 2013

A Sordid Love Story

I love Antarctica.

I really love Antarctica. As in I. Love! Antarctica. I love it with swooping soaring leaping inexplicable uncontainable joy.

I probably loved it before I met it. I yearned for it for years. And when I got here, I fell irrevocably overwhelmingly hard in love at first sight.

I didn’t even know what love was or how to love until I came here and fell so hard. I learned how to love without expectation, without an echoed feeling of love. Because, fuck, Antarctica only just barely tolerates me and with a flick of a blizzard could kill me. And I’m OK with that.

I recall my first sight of this place. I was a late hire to replace a last minute drop out. I was well past the first of the Mainbody season, and the large planes weren’t coming down. Just the Hercules LC-130s. There were only four of us contractors on that flight as passengers. I was the only FNG. Though a Herc trip from Christchurch to McMurdo is over 8 noisy hours long, I thought I was the luckiest person on the planet. I was going to Antarctica for my first time.

Being a FNG, and yes, being female, meant I got invited up to the cockpit of the Herc. With a larger number of people, it’s usual of them to give a few curious souls a glimpse into the cockpit to see out the windows. But they don’t get to stay long.

I got to stay a very long time. Indeed, when we started passing over solid ice, and mountain peaks, the usual passenger would’ve been booted from the cockpit. I wasn’t. They strapped me in to the seat behind the pilots and I stayed that way right up to landing at Willie Field.

By the time we spotted the sapphire and sparkly white-clad Mt Erebus, and the navigator had pointed it out to me, with its puff of white smoke and long tail in a blue sky on a small island surround completely by white ice, we were coming in to land. I was that close to my dream of Antarctica, I was so close I was barely able to breathe, let alone see clearly through the tears of excitement, joy and love that were streaming down my face.

We could have flipped ass over nose and died upon contact and I would have died happier than I’d ever been in my life.

Yeah, love at first sight.

A FNG season can be a very very hard season. There is so much to learn, from new acronyms to a new job, new people, new social expectations, a new environment. It is exhausting and stressful and bewildering. But I was in love. My exhaustion and the happiness I felt being here were probably the main reason why the relationship I started early in my FNG season with a lovely funny person, did not last. I felt I had to choose between loving Antarctica and getting enough sleep so I could survive the season and perform my job safely, and my partner lost out. I had to break up. I chose Antarctica. I chose to be safe and do a good job so I could come back here. No human could have measured up to that.

FNGs are sometimes frustrating to be around. We are so excited and energetic and have so many questions. We are needy. And the social norm, the peer pressure here is very heavy on returnees to Not Show Excitement. Or to not act like a FNG. It is laughed at, dismissed; the subtle cues, the overt sarcasm when you go into paroxysms of joy over the view from Ob Hill or Castle Rock, are not welcome no matter how sincerely felt. It’s just not cool.

Part of that is also a kind of etiquette the lucky follow around the unlucky. Not everyone has a job that takes them outdoors here. My second season was entirely indoors, without a window, in an office dealing with unhappy people trying to make them happy. I often volunteered to do any task (cleaning toilets was an opportunity I never turned down) that would get me out of there just to go between the buildings in town so I could catch glimpses of my beloved. To remind myself of why I was here. To make that office small in relation to the vast splendor of Antarctica.

If I was lucky enough to catch a boondoggle (a trip out of town by plane, helicopter, whatever vehicle got you off station and away from town) then I reveled in it. But learned quickly to do so quietly–mostly in writing on my blog–not in person to the less lucky.

As a FNG you are a mostly blithering amazed idiot, but you learn to dampen your public ardor to fit in.

Sometimes a hardened returnee will reveal to another hardened returnee–or take advantage of a FNGs innocently expressed joy–their abiding love for the place with a sudden unexpected paean to the views, the harsh whites, the snow, the skies, the volcano, the opportunities, the wildlife. Those moments still excite me: To know I am not the only one here who loves so utterly, to feel so deeply still.

Even when the job (whichever of the many I have had in 10 seasons) is hard, dirty, boring or frustrating, with hateful co-workers cliquish, juvenile and judgmental; disrespectful bosses, insecure lying fuckers who make every interaction a misery that can go far in destroying a season and leaving me shattered afterward; I know that every time I step outside in Antarctica to do the hard, frustrating, or dirty work, that I will get a shot of energy, a feeling will swirl through me as I look out the window on the way to a task at the airfield–which has a co-worker all grumpy pants about missing break or working overtime–that makes everything all right. The bad shit in relation to the Being Here of Being Here is shuffled off and I have to smile (to myself) and maybe tentatively point out to my companion how fucking lucky we really are and how fucking gorgeous is the environment we are passing through.

Doesn’t always work for all people. Too uncool, too FNG of me. But when it does, it is a noticed beauty shared, and maybe a better mood.

If I am alone…well, sometimes I cry with one of those magnificent emotional rising swirls of emotion I call the “Holy Fuck I’m In Antarctica!!!”s. My Holy Fuck moments remind me where I am and how lucky I am, even when my job has become rote. I have been known to do it in a loader at the South Pole, leaning on the window of the Batcave at Palmer as the freezing rain splats against it making the icebergs shimmer and dance, and while between McMurdo dorms on my way to clean toilets seeing a red flame sunset over the Trans Antartics, standing stunned for so long that my jean-clad thighs become senseless with cold.

The hardest thing about coming here, for me, is the people. Oh no, not the individuals, but the aggregate. I am an introvert tried and true. Groups exhaust me. Meals exhaust me, every meal is a social occasion. This place expects extroversion, and many people, when I walk away to be alone do not understand, and react as if rejected. It is not rejection. I just need to be alone. Indeed, there are so many unique and amazing people in this program that I am always falling in love with their lives, the choices they have made. Each new life lived until Antarctica, or between seasons, is a window into possibilities that may never have occurred to me. I solo hiked the Annapurna in Nepal because I heard a woman my age describe it with excitement. She made it possible to dream it, plan it and do it, simply by virtue of sharing her experience with me. There are role models and heroes and adventurers to put most of us to shame: with their summits of Mt Everest, their decade spent sailing around the world, their purchase of land in Alaska and building their own cabin over the years slowly, and the countries they have ventured into sans language or companions or sometimes even visas through the cracks in borders, the horse trek across Mongolia, the biking from Chile to Alaska. They are endlessly fascinating. I learn so much from them.

Even the simple quiet in a shit storm of rumours and stress modeled by one person is an education and an example of how it is possible to be in the world, in this place that is so difficult for me.

I have had some shit seasons. Only ever one shit job (the indoor one), but frequently even with a job I enjoy and love, there are shit colleagues, shit roommates, shit supervisors, shit food, shit seasons.

I recall once after a shit season, an epically shit season, hard on the heels of a previous shit season, a lovely Kiwi, a perceptive feminist friend of decades observed: “You sound like you are in an abusive relationship with that place.”

Yes. Wow. There are seasons where the PTSD of them comes out in rants and furies and silent extended hunkers of grief and hurt, and it takes me months to recover, unbundle, unclench, unfurl and allow the memories and feelings of joy and love for the place to come blazing up again when some innocent stranger asks me what it’s like down there. I am always able to excuse the shit, forgive the bad, and return to the love and joy Antarctica brings me.

The emotions of this place are strong and often raw, and often bring me to tears describing it to people. Fellow travelers and friends around the world–in India, New Zealand, Chile, Nepal, Italy, Canada, Bolivia, where ever–can be caught in the blaze of my passion for this place when I am describing it. My love is fierce and strong. I wear it on my sleeve.

And sometimes it is that love that makes me hurt so powerfully.

Like now.

I did not make the cut to stay this season. I am leaving soon, until the never certain next year, next season, next deployment.

And I am in a world of hurt. It hurts so much. Too much.

And I am in a deep deep rage over what has been done to this program, this community, this internationally cooperative scientific endeavor, the people who work so hard and sacrifice so much to be here, who do the jobs of two and three people when the budget cuts a colleague, because that is what we do. We step the fuck up to our responsibilities. We do our jobs up to and way the fuck past our abilities to do them. We suffer for our work ethic, our can do attitude, because we keep on trying even when it is humanly impossible to succeed.

To those left behind in this “caretaker status”, this season of reduced staffing comes with correspondingly increased responsibility. Your season will be long and hard. I wish you well. You will step up. That’s what we do here in Antarctica. Be safe. Take care of yourselves.

I just wish the Republican members would step up to their responsibilities, would do what they are supposed to be doing. I am sick of this crisis, where the American people and its proud country have been taken hostage by a minority group ruled by fear of change and the loss of their traditional bastions of power and profit.

Grow the fuck up. Get back to work. Roll with the fucking changes in our country.

Because, Fuck You.

I love Antarctica. And you are stealing it away from me and so many people, you are fucking up our jobs, our science, our futures, our lives.

Get the fuck back to work.

You are breaking my heart.

Posted by: Genevieve | October 10, 2013

One of the Many, Not the Few

Yup. Did not make the cut. Headed to NZ, possibly as late as next week.

And I have a full season’s supply of chocolate to eat before I leave.

Posted by: Genevieve | October 9, 2013

*contains offensive language

(I am in no way an official member of any reigning body having anything to do with the USAP–nor am I the scientist many referring links state me to be. I am one of the science support contractors–and in that respect I ask the media to not quote from this blog representing me as one. What we know is nothing at this point. And it is a nothing that is changing constantly.)

The impact of the US government shutdown is farther reaching than the media has explained or understood, than most of you can fathom. I haven’t even got the big picture.

The US Antarctic Program is shutting down for the year.

It does not matter that the government may be back up and running in a few weeks. If that happens all the government workers who have been furloughed back stateside will have to get up off their couches and their gardening kneepads to drive back to work, with back pay.

Yes, that sucks. Many people do live pay cheque to pay cheque, even when they work for the US government.

We are going to “caretaker status”. What does that mean? We do not entirely know. But we know the losses are huge. In the media they are talking about the international bevy of scientists who will not be able to do science this year at any of our three stations: McMurdo, Amundsen-Scott South Pole, and Palmer. Much of this science has been decades of research and scientific continuity leading to incredible breakthroughs in understanding our world and the cosmos and our role in it. Science is closed for the season. For the year. There will be no science. A few rare experiments may continue simply because, like IceCube at the South Pole, it is necessary that the building and the instruments it contains be maintained, but even this is unsure. The building cannot go cold, to do so would destroy not just the year’s data, but the entire multimillion dollar system.

For those of us who support that science, well….

If science goes away, what do we support?

We support the survival of the facilities and the safety of those of us who will remain as caretakers. Nothing more than that.

That doesn’t take many people. We have almost 500 people here at McMurdo Station right this minute. That’s about 375 too many, or so the rumours go. I may be one of the many, I may be one of the few. We do not know yet who will go or who will stay.

What remains for us to do is to shut down the station as if we were heading into a Winter in November, not March. We will continue to support South Pole Station, not just to get those poor benighted winterovers of 2013 out of there–it has been a hard season (I understate) but that is not my topic to pursue; it’s not my story to tell–but to make sure that all the food and fuel they need to survive next winter (Feb-Nov 2014) is provided them. That takes an entire South Pole Summer (Nov-Feb) to achieve. South Pole station cannot go cold, cold there would be irreversible. But their summer can be shut down to Winter staffing levels (50ish vs summer’s 150ish).

Supporting South Pole resupply requires aircraft operations and the South Pole Traverse. That will keep some people employed at McMurdo and Pole.

However, the rest of us? Not so very necessary. We will shut station down à la winter, with buildings that were just recently warmed up and brought online after last Winter, shut back down again. That’ll use a few folks for a little bit. And those of us needed to support that effort will stick around too.

The rest of us, well, we are being sent home. How that will happen? When that will happen? Who that will happen to? Unknown. Getting us down here is a fucking expensive, nightmare huge, epic logistics cluster. For the most part the program gets it right, with a few hiccoughs there and there, but a bravura performance nonetheless. Getting us out of here like this? On short notice? Finding hotel rooms in Christchurch at the last minute? Changing plane tickets? Figuring out how to fund our redeployment (it all costs money we no longer have)? Deciding who is vital who is not and when? That is so enormous it stresses me out just to try and imagine it. My mind boggles and steams with the effort.

Will we be eligible for unemployment? Is unemployment being funded? Will we be called back? Will we have jobs next year?

There are so many questions. The entire station, after our All Hands meeting with the managers telling us what they knew about what this all means, was quiet. Respectful questions, answers provided as best they could. None of us flung blame at the messengers who are in just as deep shit as we are. This is hard on them too, and they were struggling with their own anger and grief, they love this place just as much of the rest of us. Then the break up of the meeting. The station subdued, quiet. Clusters of quiet people looking devastated. It is not even rumour, it is fact, and we are so far past being spun up about this we are only just formulating our own questions of what if and how and really? Really? Really?!? There is so much to think about that the messengers at this meeting have not even been able to wrap their minds around everything that needs doing, and many questions brought them up short of knowledge and answers, and opened up new avenues they must research and figure out and decide on. They are more than reluctant and unhappy to have so many of our heads on the chopping block.

We are all sad. Scared. For many of us losing this job, this season, will decimate us financially. Some of us have no place to live back home because we have sublet our apartments, rented out our houses, spent good money getting ready for this season of employment. Some of us live season to season on our pay cheques. We will not be invited back to work in 2013, or even before August-September of 2014. Some of us may not even be in a position to come back next year. Once we start this process of drawing down to caretaker status we cannot back out of it and restart the season.

Even if the Republicans have revelations about their utter stupidity and fuckwittedness and get back to fucking work within a week, we won’t. We don’t get backpay. We won’t get called back to restart the season. Our raison d’être is science. Science is canceled. Science is seasonal. Krill don’t happen year round, nor do penguins and seals, or algae. Or fish or whales or albatrosses or access to glacier melt ponds or volcanoes. If it doesn’t happen now, it doesn’t happen this year.

Mostly we are sad. Frustrated. Angry at our government and ashamed to be Americans.

We are part of an internationally codependent Antarctic system. What happens in the US, and therefore to us, could fuck science in Antarctica for so many stations and countries around the continent. McMurdo Station is a logistics hub for Australian, Russian, French, Italian, and New Zealand stations (and often others). When the French helicopter went down a few years ago? We sent one of our LC-130s to look. When other stations have a medevac, or a fire, or an emergency, we are often mustered to help them with our Air National Guard aircraft and crews. We get them from NZ to their stations for the summer. I cannot count how many times a 25+ strong crew of Russian or Italian or French or Australian station crew members have stayed with us for many days while they awaited the right weather window to fly to their own stations, delayed and housed and fed here. We work together. We are one big community when things go wrong here. And we are shutting down for the season.

So, I do not know what my future is. Few of us do.

But I do know one thing for sure: Who to blame.

Fuck the fucking Republicans for getting us into this mess with their intransigent selfish right wing ideological idiocy.

Fuck them for fucking up one of the most amazing things in the world, the US Antarctic Program.

Fuck. Them.

Posted by: Genevieve | September 13, 2013

Thank You, Jack

Ten years ago I got my first phone call from the Ice.

I worked in a cubicle at the time.

I answered the phone for a living; trouble-shooting technical issues long distance for veterinary clinics who had my employer’s equipment—in-house blood and urine diagnostic equipment.

I sat at a desk facing a computer in the middle of a building, the wall of windows a vague distant impression of light and dark changing in my days. In the winter I woke in the dark, drove to work in the dark, worked under fluorescent lights, and drove home in the dark.

It was a good company to work for at the time, constantly growing even as the economy began to stagnate: IDEXX Laboratories. I was good at my job. I was underpaid. I even enjoyed it, mostly.I worked with good people and was treated with respect by my supervisors.

But every day I spent indoors in that floor of grey/blue cubicles with soft fabric walls, staring at my computer, attached to a headset answering the phone, was a day I was not living my life the way I dreamed it.

I dreamed of Antarctica. I read of it, I googled it (or what passed for googling in those days). I bought a plane ticket, rented a car and a hotel room in Denver and went to the yearly job fair, groomed and smiling, trying to break the wall of “It’s all about WHO you know not WHAT you know.”

I didn’t know anyone even remotely connected to Antarctica. I didn’t even know I needed to, so naïve was I. It had taken me years and a wonderful book by Sara Wheeler (‘Terra Incognita’) to make me realize that my plans to return to college to study science to get there were unnecessary. I could clean toilets. Or wash dishes, even.

One year at the job fair I met a man, Jack, who had the perfect storm of needed skills. From the Denver area, he had heard of the job fair on the radio, and on a lark he went. They snapped him up, hiring him that year for that summer.

Jack and I hit it off. We chatted a lot while waiting in lines.

We kept in touch during his first year on Ice. I asked him all the stupid FNG questions by email. Panting for responses. I did not know how crazy a season was; I did not get many (or in my eagerness so they seemed: rare and special). They came every now and then and he did his best.

One day, working second shift at IDEXX during the winter, at the tail end of a flurry of calls in which I had worked through a myriad of technical issues, consulting the books on my desk, more senior colleagues, and my computer–my headset beeped in my ear and I answered with my usual spiel “Hi, this is Genevieve. How may I help you?”

And a distant crackly grinning voice said inside my head, “Hey Red, it’s Jack.” There was a moment as I frantically tried to find a vet clinic named Jack, my fingers already moving over my keyboard to search the database, then some confusion about who could be calling me Red. Then he said, “…from Antarctica.”

From Antarctica.

I was talking to fucking ANTARCTICA!

I stood straight up, electrified, breathless, verging on squealing, or screaming. I popped up over my cubicle walls like a crazy prairie dog, staring wide-eyed around me, my headset torn off my head so hard it clattered on my keypad as I shot upright, my seat rolled hard out behind me hitting the back wall of my cubicle.

Just as quickly I realized 2 things: no one (and I mean NO ONE) at IDEXX knew I was even trying to get to Antarctica, that I had been trying my entire time and even before I was hired there; and I’d just torn my headset off and wasn’t actually talking to Antarctica anymore.

I sat back down just as quickly, nearly cracking my tailbone on the seat arm and missing the seat altogether, and I scrambled to reattach Antarctica to my head.

And I talked to Jack, who was IN ANTARCTICA. I cannot have been articulate at all. I know it took a few moments of his repeating the fact of where he was and that he was calling me from there for me to even accept it. I doubt I gave him time to answer my questions before more came pouring forth. I recall barely being able to keep my seat and many times I stood again, pulled short by the headset cord, bungeeing up and down with the absolute thrill of talking to Antarctica.

I don’t think I was much use at work the rest of that day. I didn’t sleep that night. My mind was exploding and popping with imaginings, with hopes, with dreams of the Ice.

The next year I went to the job fair again. Jack and I arranged to meet afterward so he could show me his photos and answer all my questions.

Instead, Jack showed up at the job fair, surprising me.

Jack introduced me to some people.

I was now past the wall of Who You Know Not What You Know.

That year my resume got pulled. I got a call. I got a job.

My first season was the summer of 2004-2005 at McMurdo Station.

In Antarctica. On Ice.

I’ve been working on Ice ever since.

Thank you, Jack. Thank you for calling me from Antarctica, giving me the thrill of my life up until then, and then introducing me at the job fair, “This is Genevieve. She’s good people.”

As my 10th season, my 9th year, grows closer, I feel that energy, that crackling popping electric charge the Ice brings me. Those stirrings of excitement and anticipation that have never failed.

I work in Antarctica. Holy shit, eh?

Posted by: Genevieve | September 10, 2013

Headed to McMurdo

It’s been a few years since I did a full season in McMurdo.

I’ll be there this summer, working in the Haz Yard.

Let’s hope I feel safe enough to blog, and inspired to do so.

Posted by: Genevieve | December 25, 2012

Hiatus

If you are not on facebook with me then you are not seeing anything I am thinking or doing or photographing here at Palmer.

I don’t want to blog anymore.

I feel guilty I am not blogging.

I am tired of feeling guilty. I am tired of worrying I will publish the wrong thing and lose my chance to come back to Antarctica each year. It’s too stressful.

So I won’t be blogging much anymore. If at all.

I’d rather be out chasing whales on Christmas day, in a zodiac.

Posted by: Genevieve | November 25, 2012

Summer Bergs Thus Far

And then this iceberg showed up and blew them all away. Thus the large number of pics of the same berg to follow. It had a penguin aboard, a blue pool, a window, spires, a short bit a tall bit and such magnificence we would have capsized the boat all standing on the same side of it with our cameras out. Thankfully we were in a zodiac.

Goodnight berg.

Posted by: Genevieve | November 4, 2012

The Numbing

 

My view from my tent site. Last thing I see at night, first thing I see in the morning.

I have spent 8 previous seasons in Antarctica.

This is a new season. Relative to my previous 8 this is an easy season. I am startled at how much easier. It is not that I am not expected to work as hard, or as many hours, as all my previous seasons.

But it is so EASY.

It hardly seems legitimately Antarctic. Except for all that evidence out there that screams Antarctica to the world at large. Like, say, penguins. Heaps of penguins. Icebergs? Got them. Glaciers? Yeah, in my backyard.

Why is it EASY?

Well, it’s so bloody WARM. Incredibly crazy warm.

I used to imagine how easy it would be to build triwalls in a world where you didn’t have to wear gloves and a parka and 3 hats when I was armoured against the Polar cold and every tiny effort was ridiculous and hilarious and made me laugh.

You may not consider temperatures hovering around 0C/32F, the freezing point, to be warm.

 

Torgersen island, penguins galore. These are Adelies.

Perhaps my sense of easy has been warped by having spent so long working outdoors at -85F/-65C at altitude in the dark. Or struggling against winds that would lift me off my feet were there not someone there to hold me down.

So to come to sea level in a maritime environment that hovers around freezing year round and go outside with just one hat, gloves and a pair of sunglasses even on a windy snowy day just strikes me as benevolent. I’m cheating. There is NOTHING extreme about Palmer Station, Antarctica. (So far, I can still hold my breath and wait.)

Oh, sure, yeah, it can still kill you. That’s easy, too. You can get lost in the fog or blowing fat snowflakes at sea or on the glacier. You can fall out of the zodiac into the cold water. But during my regular work day? Unless I get my ass run over by the Skytrak, or do something really stupid with my hazardous waste, staying alive is easy-peasy.

It’s almost disappointing.

On some level I have defined myself against the harshness of this continent by surviving the ridiculous; by being the damn fool who worked outdoors almost every day of two consecutive winters at the South Pole.

 

We were out boating and a slew of gentoo penguins swam past, charming us all.

So to be in Antarctica with a hot tub, a fireplace, a sauna, down comforters, 24/7 wifi, three square meals a day, recreational boating, snowshoeing up a glacier in the backyard, AND warm weather seems like a cop out. If I am not tilting against difficulty, panting with effort, developing muscles from lifting and shifting and moving heavy shit, dressed in layer after layer of defensive clothing, then what am I really?

It has been disruptive to my sense of Antarctica and my sense of self. It took me almost a month to sit at a table with folks who knew only Palmer and realize deep down that when they talked about being in Antarctica they meant, like, here, right now. No, really? But…it’s so easy, how can this be Antarctica when I have defined myself and the place by the challenges I have faced so far?

The other stations, South Pole and McMurdo, all dream of being able to get to Palmer. This is the kind of Antarctica that thrills people, that shows up in the movies and cartoons, that the cruise ships can access. This Antarctica with the penguins, and elephant seals, and giant petrels, and icebergs, and glaciers, and otherworldly beauty. This is the Antarctica that people yearn for.

In McMurdo the lucky few get out of town and see a few of these magnificent iconic bits of Antarctica. A few Emperor Penguins wander through the airport, Weddell seals heave themselves out by the pressure ridges, glaciers glint and shine in the distance as they slide heavily down from the Trans Antarctics across the sound. At Pole you have to winter to see much of the grandeur of that place. Yes, there are sundogs and diamond dust and sastrugi in the summer, but wintering brings the skies full of stars so thick and clear you can navigate across the polar plateau by starlight alone, and the auroras dancing daily, gaily, across the sky from horizon to horizon turning the snow you walk across green in reflection.

 

The signpost.

At both these places you have to seek out the Antarctic experience, hope you have a job that takes you face to face with those few and rare moments that stop your heart and leave you tear-stricken with the Holy Fuck I’m in Antarctica! feelings. I have measured precious by the challenges I’ve had to survive in order to get to it.

Not so much with Palmer Station.

I just can’t survive being in a constant state of Holy Fucks. So the everpresent preciousness has some odd numbing effect.

There is no effort to having the Antarctic experience here. You don’t even have to get dressed for it!

I am almost numb with how much I have experienced and seen and done since I’ve been here in such a short time. I am dumbfounded and replete, sated already with the glaciers calving in great boomcrashes that roar out over station and rattle the Batcave (my office), with the penguins by the thousands, every damn one of them doing utterly cute penguin things all at the SAME TIME. It’s almost enough to just make me go ENOUGH. Enough already. I’m FULL. I can no longer respond with wonder and awe to what is no longer precious but NORMAL, daily, in my face.

I’m not complaining. I am aware MY response to this place is one of shock.

I worked so hard, and held so precious the rare and wonderful experiences of Antarctica. I sought wonder in the interstices between the slog and the awful, and I saw it and marveled at it. I clung to these private moments of awe, these Holy Fuck moments that blew my emotional doors off and left me gasping and wet-eyed at how fucking lucky I was to be here. How madly in love I was with Antarctica, the continent, the environment, the bottom of the world.

And now to have it happen to me when I look out my window, to step outside and be surrounded by such an utterly amazing landscape, to have to put no effort into it. It takes away some of the feeling, it feels less precious.

 

Someone came along and carefully detached some icicles from my office, the Batcave, and stuck them upside down in the snowbank outside. I thought it was beautiful.

It isn’t. It’s amazing. It’s some kind of rare gift to be here, to see and do more in one week than I was able to do and see in an entire season elsewhere. I’ve wanted to be here at Palmer for years. I’ve put in my hard work, I have to believe I deserve this treat, this easy, this constant thrilling beauty.

I have to put down my defenses, let down my guard, and let this place in. Let myself enjoy this place the way it deserves to be.

Because sometimes I cannot believe I’m lucky enough to be living my own life.

Posted by: Genevieve | October 10, 2012

Rec Boating & Hermit Island Photos

Yes, we get to take the zodiacs out during non-work hours and go boating and land on islands and go hiking.

Sorry. I know you are not here.

A few days after the Bonaparte Peninsula hike I went out rec boating. And there were bergs. I’m told they are small bergs, and they get more impressive, but I was impressed enough even by the tiny ones.

Dropping off the first threesome near Old Palmer.

Strange textures as the water freezes.

What can I say? I’m on the water.

I watched this small berg heaving and rolling from shore. I asked to go alongside it from a safe distance. It was creating its own surf.

Boating slowly through ice. Look at the differences in the textures.

Dropping Glenn off at another island. Check out the size of that petrel overhead.

Hermit Island. Note giant petrel. What a wingspan!

Dropped off at Hermit Island.

One of us did not bring snowshoes. The other two of us did. Guess who had it easier? The snow was DEEP in places.

That’s Mark climbing right up to the top of Hermit. I was close behind. Our snowshoeless party member was way behind us, finding it harder going. Skis would have been ideal for the conditions.

Loved the whirlpool like pattern the sea ice made.

Giant petrels! Not just big petrels, not just large petrels but GIANT petrels. This seems to be their runway so they can launch themselves into the wind off the cliff.

I found the patterns the sea ice formed around the island to be lovely.

Our hero shot on top of Hermit Island. Don’t we look like superheroes?

Seated for a moment contemplating my snowshoes and how best to descend the steep slope beneath me.

What odd creature left these tracks?

Odder still.

By now these snowy landscapes must be boring you. For me, they make my heart sing.

Just the folds and dips and shadows and lushness of the snow was gorgeous, even without long views and glaciers and bergs and horizons.

Colours! Lichen.

Grass. Moss. Lichen. This is such a hugely different and warmer environment than Pole and McMurdo.

Bergy bit below water. Blue!!

The remains of the ship The Bahia, which ran aground off Palmer in 1989. Still there. Still leaking oil.

Shagalicious flotilla! Blue-eyed cormorants en mass floating on the water. No one in the boat had ever seen so many in one place before.

The last berg of the day as we wended our way back picking up the various hikers from the islands roundabout. A glorious day out.

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