chilling feet

chilling feet

Monday, June 19, 2017

Antarctica: Mid-Winter Celebrations at the South Pole

(Gathered in the gym to watch the movie)
Mid-winter is here!

One of the wonderful traditions at the South Pole is the celebration of mid-winter. Like the explorers of old who found ways to commemorate their mid-winter as a way to stave off cabin fever, while at the same time exuberantly finding a way to note a halfway point, Amundsen-Scott Station has a history of finding interesting ways to ensure our mid-winter does not pass unnoticed.

One of the first ways we brought in the mid-winter this year was by sticking to the tradition of gathering to watch the movie The Shining. It might at first seem an odd choice to watch a movie about a character who is driven insane by the isolation of spending an entire winter at a hotel cut off from civilization by distance and snow - sounds somewhat familiar. There is a distinct difference in our circumstances versus the family in the movie in that the family has to deal with the hotels other
(Not a bad set up)
guests, or spirits of people who had either met or delivered untimely deaths in the hotel. Though I have heard some people make claims to the South Pole having at least one of our own wandering spirits, every account is at the worst mischievous and to my knowledge there are no claims of malicious intervention as in The Shining. 

It is a funny thing to lean into the possible issues and struggles an isolated group of people may or may not end up dealing with through a winter at the South Pole. My gut instinct is usually to avoid talking about or referencing in any way the possible side effects of the long winter, but I was talking to a friend here who had a different perspective. In his experience with military he said they were taught to use humor as a way to disarm possibly situations that could prove to be quite debilitating both mentally and physically. I've thought about that comment a few times as that is the general rule of thumb here at the South Pole. We watch horror movies in moments when a person might be doubting their decision to stay for the entire winter. We laugh and make jokes about how particular people might lose their minds at any moment and go on killing sprees. And generally I would have to say it does seem to be a good way to deal with issues head on, leaving little or no room to brood internally and let things fester.

(Working on my creepy Jack Nicholson face?)
So we watched Jack Nicholson slowly lose his mind and become a demented monster of isolated paranormal influences. Sarah had never seen the movie before and was in for a good many surprises. I had thought I had watched this particular flick, though I quickly realized this was only because I had seen so many of the famous scenes before. I had never sat down and watched the movie all the way through. What a good movie! Kubrick delivers masterful scenes mixed with an overly eerie combination of music and piercingly horrific noises that really make The Shining a psychologically horrific film. Even some of the shots and how the actors are portrayed on screen in relation to their surroundings give the viewer particular feelings that I feel the director must have agonized over in trying to bring his intentions to life. Well done Mr. Kubrick, and a huge nod of appreciation to whoever first thought this would be a good movie to watch during mid-winter. It really does work.

(The champions all together. Based on the descriptions you should be able
to pick out each person based on their category)
Another mid-winter event I had been looking forward to for quite some time was the Mid-Winter Beard and Mustache Competition. Though a few of us would like to think we invented this sort of sport and it was the inaugural facial hair competition during a South Pole winter, we also acknowledge wherever men have existed with facial hair there has always been a need to have it officially judged and weighed. I am sure it was probably around the forty-fifth South Pole facial hair contest.  I for one have always noticed the feeling of supremacy or inadequacy when passing a fellow bearded or mustached man. Some of my most cherished compliments have been offered in respect to a particular facial adornment of hairy manliness. My favorite? While attending a traditional Indian wedding, which means plenty of men with nice thick beards, a man stopped to talk to me. He himself had a beard of noteworthy significance and it went well with his traditional Indian garb. This bearded man looked me in the eyes and he said, "You have a fantastic beard. I wish my beard was as thick." Flabbergasted. Taken aback. Over the moon! I assured him I thought his beard was quite nice and then like a ten year old boy I turned to Sarah and said, "Did you hear that?"

(Judges working hard to tally up scores)
It is obvious I love facial hair. I love to grow it on my own face, to the chagrin of my wife, and I quite enjoy observing it on the faces of those around me. So it made perfect sense to host a facial hair competition. And let me tell you, we have some men down here who can grow some mean facial hair. We compiled some excellent judges, Sarah made some spectacularly appropriate prizes (cozies with mustaches on them - we also added some drinks to the mix to fill the cozies), and we gathered all the men who wanted to put their facial hair to the test. It was an event I will not soon forget. The men were encouraged to be creative, though I am not sure they needed such suggestion, and they used every tool at their disposal to earn points with the judges.

(We lined up all the beards for the judges to get one last look)
Posturing. Bribing. Swagger. In depth stories of how or why their face grows a beard or a mustache. Grooming. Jokes. Liquid courage. Costumes. And more.

The judges worked within two main categories - the beard and the mustache. Within those categories they had other factors they used to score each facial sculpture. From maturity to grooming to how it personally moved them, each contestant was stringently judged as unbiased as possible according to ten different standards. When the judging was done our officiates would huddle together to ensure their decisions were good and just. While there was of course difference of opinion, facial hair brings out a lot of heated debate, the honorable judges finally deliberated to find certain beards and mustaches as more worthy than others. They delivered their findings.  There was intense celebrating and overjoyed shouting and simultaneous weeping and gnashing of teeth. Mostly celebrating as we have a good crew.  
(In case you didn't click on the last one, everyone needed to see the winners a little more close-up)

This photo of the facial hair competition winners displays just a little bit of what we encountered this past Sunday. There will be more photos to follow at the bottom of this post, but for now just scroll back up and look at them each one more time. Just imagine these bearded and mustached men in action. It was something to behold.

(Was the Beast excited? You decide)

Stephen Ashton won the overall prize in the beard category. Labeled as The Beast, this specification was meant to capture the South Pole's overall fiercest beard. The beard that all other beards bow down to and strive to consider when thinking of their own futures. This beard knows its purpose and could live in a forest by itself. Steve's beard is certainly all of those things and then a little bit more, depending on who you ask. Of all the categories this was the most debated and even caused a rift amongst the judges. In the end though, Steve's beard, which I will call Raygar because I like it and I'm writing this post, trounced the competition and took home the big prize.

(The Loki with a prop - ice cream)

Josh Neff stunned the South Pole this past Sunday morning when he sauntered into the galley having shaved his beard into a carefully crafted work of art. As a man of his own he soundly encapsulated the second category in the beard competition known as The Loki. Known for being especially crafty, Loki was the trickster among the Norse gods. Just look at Josh's face and tell me this was not the perfect name for a person who is going to make his face into a hairy work of art. Give the man a little bit of pomade and he will make you a masterpiece. 

(The Dinovo shuffle)
John Dinovo not only shocked the judges with his distinguished beard of excellence, but in the midst of competition he inspired an entirely new category. In an abundance of beards his snow white and silvery beard shone a magnificent light and would not be denied. The judges used their almost unlimited power that had been bestowed upon them for this event and they created an entirely unsanctioned new slot - The Most Fatherly. While John acted the tall and sexy Santa Clause during his performance (look below for a pic of Sarah sitting on his lap), the judges saw beyond this trite act and into the soul of his beard. There they saw something that demanded recognition, something beyond both words and understanding. In their infinite wisdom the judges felt more than saw this staggering truth. In short, they saw the father figure. And so the birth of a facial hair star was born. 

(The celebration one does for the Basement Dweller)
Andrew Nadolski took home the last prize in the beard category. It is not a prize always sought after and in most circumstances is completely misunderstood. This is the honorable mention category and for this contest was aptly named The Basement Dweller. Andrew's facial hair simply took the cake, so to speak, and much is expected of his beard in the future. This category is the opposite of the beast and yet at the same time it does demand some respect of its own, after all it is a beard, technically speaking. There is often conflict and struggle depicted in this facial expression of attempted grandeur. One can see the potential for true valor and yet mourn at the unrealized beauty of what could be. As the tragic hero, this beard wanders the earth with every expectation of saving the world from some unforeseen evil, only to become the very evil it was created to oppose. Oddly enough Andrew shaved his beard into a goatee later in the day for another event, or perhaps because he could not bear the weight of his victory. His goatee, by all standards, was amazing. 

(The Mustache - classic rep and classic celebration)
Peter Bammes was the overall champion in the mustache category. Yes, I know what you're thinking, "Brett, you lost. You suck." And you are correct but look at Peter! He soundly took home the category called simply The Mustache. Not only does he have a magnificent beard that was in contention for The Beast, but his mustache somehow overshadows the glory of his beard and is its very own thing. This is difficult to achieve for certain but Peter's mustache has achieved that and much more. Every other mustache on station looks to his for approval and offers slight bow of its whiskers, knowing that if we lived in medieval times it would owe fealty to Peter's mustache and plenty of taxes. People have wondered if Peter's gregarious personality exudes from him or his stache. As a person who recognizes firsthand the effects facial hair can have on a person, I myself must pause to reflect on this question myself. It is entirely possible Peter might be an introverted person who likes to keep to himself, that is, until he grew a mustache of epic proportions that Burt Reynolds, Sam Elliot, and Tom Selleck would all be proud to know, wear, or just converse with on occasion. 

(I didn't have a good shot of the walrus as I was taking shots
so here is my mustache from later that night - no longer a
walrus but twirled a little bit. Photo by Gavin Chensue)
There can only be one Mustache. Our second category was entitled the Duke. This category was meant to honor a man who could not be the king, but who still rightly deserves a place amongst the royal court of facial hair. Humbly I admit, head bowed and flushed cheeks, the judges honored me this day and I took home the Duke. I had been growing my mustache since arriving at the South Pole. A few of our ERT 2 team guys had discussed growing staches at our fire training many months ago, and we thought it best each person had to grow their mustache from scratch once at the pole. None of this "I had an excellent beard and then shaved it into a stache" nonsense. And so the rough journey of working from the ground up began back in February and this past Sunday I can thankfully say my facial growing skills did not disappoint me. I had the ever classic walrus mustache, allowing my mustache free reign over my lips and even at times the inside of my mouth (though I discouraged my stache from going there). I promptly shaved my mustache as soon as the evening was over. It was hard enough dealing with the stache's influence in my life. Imagine what an award winning mustache would be like!

(Probable Cause - that a boy)
Our final and last award for the day went to the mustache best described, as my co-worker coined it, Probable Cause. You can probably glean from the name everything that needs to be said, but Adam West was able to woo the judges beyond their own expectations. While his mustache has recently come into its own, there have been mutterings on station about this category of the competition being Adam's from the get go. Like the Basement Dweller in the beard category, this mustache simply leaves people feeling a little uncomfortable. Mothers turn their children away and grown men will at times grow angry around it for no apparent reason. There is, however, always the chance this stache will transition into something great. Like the wild caterpillar every mustache, no matter how probable, has the chance for miraculous transformation. The one amazing thing that can be said for every face of a man with a probable stache - they are still persevering. Fight the good fight Adam. Congrats.

(Even the ladies were wearing facial hair. How can you judge otherwise?)
We really did have some truly fantastic competitors in this years South Pole Facial Hair Competition. James Casey has an animal growing on his face and it was a blessing having the presence of such stout beard with us. Mike Rice's mustache is older than most, if not all, the other competitors and has seen things most of us probably hope to avoid. Martin Wolf has grown his first ever beard into something to be proud of for certain. James McMichael, or JP, crafted his mustache into a Magnum PI lookalike and it was a thing to behold. Gavin Reynold's rustic wandering-man-in-the-wilderness-beard captured a few imaginations and transported us to Minnesota forests.  Jason Spann's photo of the beard he wishes he was allowed to grow but cannot because of ERT brought a few tears to the eye. Emotions ran deep.

Many thanks go out to all our contestants and judges. What a fun way to celebrate mid-winter. And as always, when there is any discussion of facial hair on our station, this blog makes a nod to Wayne White's all-powerful mustache. It is the inspiration for a shirt, it has experienced more in its life than this man can contemplate, and it is my hope I will never have to follow it from danger to safety - but I will if necessary. (More pics from the contest below)

(Dinner. We always set up a table with the people who have
passed away at the Pole. Four to date. Photo by Gavin C)
The staple of mid-winter celebrations, above even the facial hair contest, is of course the dinner. Our cooks take their gloves off (well they actually are wearing them) and go all out to prepare a fabulous meal. They work all day while we mostly take it easy. Volunteers chip in to make sure the galley gets decorated, the cooking dishes get washed, and all of the other odds and ends that need to happen for our galley to transition into a fancy dinning establishment can take place. It is definitely a highlight of the year and somehow the cooks take our frozen food, with a little bit of greens from the greenhouse, and cook up a culinary storm. This years menu was a greenhouse salad, steak (so good), grilled asparagus, swirly mashed potatoes, and delicious bread. Our dessert was a chocolate lava cake with homemade vanilla ice cream (so so good). And all of this came after a cocktail hour with scrumptious appetizers.

(Appetizers from dinner - so good)
Only so much can be said of dinner as I was too preoccupied eating to notice much else. Sarah and I both had fun attempting to eat as much of the wonderful food as possible, while enjoying the nice atmosphere of the galley turned fancy. Another aspect of our night was a Murder Mystery that began as we sat down to eat. Josh, the guy who won The Loki, spent hours upon hours creating a murder mystery game for any who were interested to play. We were able to create our own characters, which added a lot of personal touch to the fun, and Josh then crafted an entire evening of suspense and whodunit to our mid-winter night.

(My costume for Houston Mangrove)
I was a failing movie star, due to refusing to shave my mustache, with a sordid past named Houston Mangrove. When I met Melanie (played by Sarah) I left my past behind and straightened out. Sarah's character was a retired doctor, too fed up with the ickys and germs, turned mostly medical drama actor playing roles in both television and movies. The story demanded each of us having been to the South Pole before in 2007, now returning for a reunion and the possibility of buying the South Pole station. Sarah had been here before as the doctor, of course, and I had been here to film the prequel to the movie Cowboys and Aliens - makes total sense if you think about it. Every other character had different motives for wanting to purchase the South Pole from Josh, the mysterious benefactor, and naturally the plot of the evening involved intrigue, murder, deception, aliens, fortune tellers, sneaking, lying, forced truth telling, and all other sorts of murder mystery type deals. We had fun. Sarah was killed, as her former medical training was helping to discover a killer, and I was disqualified as I witnessed the murder but in the darkness could not make out who it was I grappled with and such. Eventually we learned the truth - Andrew, or the man who won the Basement Dweller, was a religious cult leader and he was on a killing spree.

(The mustache that did  not have to compete. Wayne gives a
short speech before dinner. Photo courtesy of Gavin C)
Our mid-winter celebration was quite memorable. To top it all off we had two other significant things happen. The first occurred during our final preparation for the meal while we were all eating appetizers. Someone noticed the temperature was dropping outside and for the first time since we have been at the South Pole we hit -100 degrees Fahrenheit! A landmark we were all hoping would happen while we are here and one that usually occurs earlier than mid-winter. After a lot of hoorays and hollering, a few people went outside to feel what -100 feels like.  Our group decided we would put off trying to join the 300 club until later (more on that later if you do not know what it is) as we were preoccupied. Then as we were finishing up the murder mystery we glanced up at the aurora cameras to notice they were showing tons of auroras all over the sky. Sarah and I geared up in our ECW and went outside to enjoy the show. We just lied down on the ground to watch. Sarah was able to snap a few decent shots of the southern lights dancing all across the sky and over the station, and we were both excited the auroras visited to make the end to our mid-winter evening even better.

We went off to bed and enjoyed sleeping in on our extra day off.

(Hide your intentions, bet your caravan)
Our mid-winter Monday, or extra day off, was spent lazing around the station. We went into the galley around 11am to grab some food and settled down with left-over crab and artichoke dip from the appetizers the night before (did I mention how good the food was yet?). Sarah went off to do some quilting while I watched a show, did some reading, and stretched my legs out a little bit. We then met up with some friends at 3pm to play a game called Carcassonne, a game that is a mix between Settlers of Cataan and Risk. It's a fun game and, though we have not played in a few weeks, we have been in the habit of playing this game every Sunday afternoon with a small crew of folks. Sarah was the victor this time around, go wife, and we finished up just in time for poker.

(Sarah looking for the win, Viktor wearing his Hope shirt)
JP, honorable mention from the facial hair contest, has hosted a poker game every two day weekend. It is an ongoing contest that combines the points scored from each game to a total tally for the winter. JP cooks up some appetizers, like mozzarella sticks, and we all sit down to see who will come out on top this time around. It's a fun way to kill a few hours while hobnobbing with some of the folks down here. Sarah actually won the last game, though this time around she went out a little bit earlier. I made it into the final six only to lose to a man with some wild luck. Oh to the well. JP had our machinist on station make up some really cool card holders for each of us playing. What a cool gift.

All in all we had a great mid-winter weekend. There were plenty of activities and super good food. I think we will remember this one for a while.
(And Happy Bday to Aunt Cynthia!!)

(JP sports the Magnum PI)
(James talks about his beard to the judges)

(One of the judges decides to take advantage of the Santa Clause looking John. But then forgets what she wants for Christmas. Hey, it even happened to Ralphie)
(Our Murder Mystery Costumes. Oh no, Sarah is dead!)
(And Jason explains why his amazing beard, that he is not currently allowed to grow, should still win)

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