chilling feet

chilling feet

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

No Solar Eclipse at the South Pole

(One thing we, as a materials department, do is to volunteer every few
weeks to cook pizza for the station. It's a lot of fun and we really enjoy
trying to come up with some mysteriously delicious pies)
It is with a sad note that I offer to you all that there was no solar eclipse at the South Pole. One reason for this is the obvious absence of the sun. While it is certainly good to report we have caught a few glimpses of the sun peeking over the distant horizon when there are no clouds obstructing our view, it has been a bummer to have missed out on a full solar eclipse passing over the United States. From the pictures I have managed to see on social media, it seems there are plenty of people who enjoyed it in our absence.

Speaking of the United States, watching the news as it filters in to the South Pole has been somewhat discouraging. The only thing I want to offer on this subject is prayer. Being away from the country at this time leaves me feeling a little more than impotent in my ability to take part or help out in any way. Today I saw a post on social media from one of my former seminary professors, Dr. Lloyd Allen. As a Church History professor it is appropriate for him to share a prayer by Thomas Merton from 1962. This is the prayer I offer up now from the South Pole for the United States and the rest of the world, in the hopes of peace and reconciliation.
"Lord of History Whose designs are inscrutable. . . . Mercifully hear this prayer . . . from . . . a world in which You are forgotten. . . . Your presence ignored. Because we do not know You, we have no peace. . . . Help us to be masters of the weapons that threaten to master us. . . . Resolve our inner contradictions that now grow beyond belief and beyond bearing. . . . Teach us to be long-suffering in anguish and insecurity. Teach us to wait and trust. Grant light, grant strength and patience to all who work for peace."

Moving back to life at the South Pole, somehow it is already August! One aspect of living at the South Pole that gets a good amount of attention is the time a person has left before the first plane comes to get us and we head home. As the months whittle away and people get more excited about the idea of leaving, the days are counted with increasing care. We have started receiving our tentative dates for leaving the ice. This is an exciting time for planning and looking forward to some much needed change. It might not seem as though we are too close to possible November departure dates, but when you have people who have been here since last October (we did not get here till January) the idea of another seventy days truly is something to celebrate.
(Taken during the marathon - it was not fun)

Are we excited? Let me say it this way. If a plane came today and we could leave I think I would be game for jumping on it. Having said that, Sarah and I enjoy our time here as well. I am not cringing while I think of the remaining seventy plus days to come, though I am beginning to look forward to certain aspects of departing as well.

For instance: Good food. Our food here is decent most of the time, but almost all of it has been frozen for years. It will certainly be nice to enjoy some deliciously fresh food. I cannot stress how excited I am about a change in our food. The other day a group of us sat and talked for about an hour about good food we miss/are looking forward to eating when we leave. I could see the food forming before me, and then evaporate as a cruel trick. Family.  It's a long time to be away and we have some new family members coming our way soon too! New babies! We are both missing friends and family quite a bit, and we are certainly looking forward to catching up with them.  Traveling.  While being here is amazing it's the longest we have been in any one place for a while. We have some fun plans for when we leave. There are plenty of other things either or both of us miss, but this covers the main things.

I will most likely do a separate post about this at some point, when I feel more like talking about it, but one thing that happened recently was a self-imposed marathon on a treadmill. Due to certain time restraints before and after our time at the South Pole (and considering wanting to run one shortly after leaving), I made the decision to run 26.2 miles on the treadmill. In my efforts to run a marathon on every continent, I would obviously prefer to run this outside but the adverse Antarctic conditions made it clear I am here at the wrong time to complete this feat. There is a marathon run at most of our U.S. bases during the summer; however, not knowing if I would ever make my way back for such an occasion I made the hard decision to embrace the terribly boring treadmill. And that is how my marathon went - terribly. Oh well, for now I'm taking it as a win. I ran a marathon at over 11,000 feet at the South Pole. It was rough but the thing is done.

(We are both still unicycling. Sarah is still way better than me. And
these two guys, Josh and Peter, are way better than the rest of us.
Here they are pushing their abilities to the limit by holding hands and
riding in circles. Note Peter's shirt - the Hope shirt!)
On a much more celebratory note, Sarah and I have been learning more about wine! One of the guys, Viktor, on station is a level one sommelier and he likes to share his passion and knowledge on the subject. Not only does Viktor teach a class each week with another guy, Clint, for anyone who wants to come, but he has been giving Sarah and I more in depth sessions once a week too. It has been a fun subject to study and our appreciation for the fruit of the vine has been increasing through gaining more knowledge. Now when we do our tastings (with our VERY limited wine selection here on station), we have a better idea of what to look for when sniffing and tasting. It really does make the whole experience more enjoyable.  I can already see a few trips being planned around some French vineyards!

And there was a pool tournament. Sarah and I both signed up to play in the tournament for the joy of being around the community. I cannot stress enough how our decision to play was based in no way on any skill either of us possess to play billiards. Neither of us are downright terrible. I do not mean to imply a complete lack of skill. However, when compared to people who actually play pool often enough to hone their felt tabled talents, our abilities are certainly wanting. This does not mean we did not have fun. We both did better than either of us thought we might do, and we both had a few moments when we know we should have done a little better. Once we had been knocked out, and even between games, we spent the rest of our time watching (mostly Sarah) and heckling (mostly Brett) the players. Thanks to Josh for putting on the tournament, even though he won it and made us all look like we had never played the game before.

One last update for today's post. There is always one moment for which almost every South Pole person who winters over waits. That moment is when the temperature finally drops below -100 degrees F! This happened briefly, and perhaps appropriately, during our mid-winter celebrations a few months ago. But do to the nature of our events planned for that night, we did not really have much opportunity to go outside and experience this ridiculously cold temperature. This time we were ready! And not only was it super cold, but when we went outside we discovered an extremely bright aurora display dancing across the sky! There are moments that define the South Pole experience, and heading outside at -100 degrees to be greeted by the brightest aurora of the season was uniquely special. There are not too many places in the world where a person can be exposed to a cold of this nature, and though I am not sure I would have sought it out, I count myself fortunate to have experienced it. 

Seventy-four days! We can do this.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Antarctic Christmas in July: How the South Pole Do

Christmas in JULY.  Why? Because it's cold you twit and it's fun to celebrate Christmas whenever you can to enjoy it more (sorry, pathetic attempt to take a quote from Alan Rickman and use it for Christmas joy of movie viewers everywhere. We are all less off for him having passed away. This is from him playing the Sheriff George of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves). Ya that was bad, but Christmas in July was not. Most people like Christmas and when it is frigidly cold outside it feels like it is time for Christmas. So Kim, my supervisor down here for the materials department and a lady who loves Christmas, planned an entire event for us to celebrate. As you can see from the picture, this of course included as much decorating as possible. In a good way, if that is possible, the galley looked as though our Christmas decoration boxes projectile vomited their contents onto the walls, ceilings, and floors. It was beautiful and I can say with pride my hands were a big part of making sure it was as classy as described.

Well you know how Christmas goes, especially when it is celebrated at the wrong time of the year - amazing!! Once our decorating was done, we started off our celebrations by decorating tons of cookies that Kim, Sarah and Catherine shaped and cooked up for us all. Sugar Bear, one of our beloved cooks (and yes we call him Sugar Bear), had prepared all the dough to make this cookie experience possible. Thanks Sugar Bear and cookie makers! As you will see from the pictures below, these lovely folks made so many cookies that our cookie decorating party was really quite fun. People brought their creative skills to life in the form of sugar cookie art. You might think I am just making this up or being polite, but when you look down to some of the cookies these people brought to life you will see what I am talking about. Michelangelo? Maybe not, but certainly art. Penguins with backpacks. Polar bears eating penguins. A distant relative of the octopus I made in an attempt to make Steve uncomfortable (he's not a fan of the octopus as he appropriately fears their brain capacity and ability to track one down far from the ocean). I should have added more photos of the cookies but you'll get the idea.

With cookies done and eager to taste what Kim was preparing for our Christmas day feast, some of us gathered in the galley to watch Christmas movies. Choices ranged from A Christmas Story to A Nightmare Before Christmas to Elf to various other titles that were watched that day. People were celebrating through the kind disposition Christmas beverages offer in times like these, and mostly there was just holiday relaxation. Dinner was served and was scrumptiously wonderful. It is odd how a few movies, a little bit of music, the right food, and some lights can make a place feel so much like Christmas right smack in the middle of July. Having celebrated Christmas in July twice now, once before in New Zealand, I am a fan. Why only have Christmas once a year when one can easily have it twice?

What else goes along with Christmas in July - gift exchange (as seen in pictures)! We all worked hard on scrounging up the most desirable of gifts and wrapped them for a good ole' fashioned White Elephant style gift swap. Gifts ranged from calendars to bottles of wine to handcrafted replicas of this years pole marker (smaller in scale of course). There was excitement as people opened gifts. There was despair as others then came and ruthlessly stole their prized gift. There was amusement and laughter as others watched people lose their newest joy in life. And then there was a type of revenge, not directed at the person who had stolen their gift because that is impossible according to the rules, as those deprived of their gifts went searching to steal from some other person admiring the gift they had just opened. It was as any white elephant gift exchange should be.

And then there was our Ham Radio class. Dr. James Casey (pictured all the way to the left in the group photo) was generous enough to offer a station wide class on Ham radio. To operate these amateur radios one needs one or all of three license available, all giving slightly different privileges on the Ham. There is the Technician, the General, and the Extra. I put off my studies a little bit and only had time to really go over the Technician well enough to pass, but Sarah was able to wrangle in the Technician and the General! So one more thing that happened while we were at the South Pole that one time - we earned our amateur radio licenses. Not a bad deal at all. And special thanks to James for putting on the class and for putting up with all of our ridiculous shenanigans in those class sessions.  

That is all for this post. We have had a lot of other things happen but now is not the right time to talk about any of them. For instance, we took our group winter photo and yet it will not be ready to view for some undisclosed amount of time. I also ran a marathon (on the treadmill) this past weekend. However, not only do I not feel like talking about it yet, but I will most likely write a post about it at a later time. There have also been studies of wine, which again I will most likely post about all on its own in the future.

For now please feel free to scroll down through the few extra photos I've added. The aurora shot is by Hunter Davis (yes you have seen a few of his photos now) and sadly is not mine. He really knows what he's doing with his camera. Click here to check out more of his photos.
(This wooden reindeer explodes when touched - so be careful and no touching!)

(It was a cookie making extravaganza)

(That's my two eyed creation. Inspired by an extreme hatred of Steve, based on his hatred for the octopus, this little guy ventured all the way from the depths of the ocean to the South Pole in search of justice. Unfortunately he was eaten and Steve is still safe and sound)