29 October, 1998

October 29, 1998

Greetings from The Ice! I am finally here. It is a crystal clear day with no wind. The air is cold enough to freeze my nostrils when I breathe in deeply but it is a warm day today, warm enough to walk around with my coat unzipped. Still, carrying my suitcase back to my dorm without wearing my mittens was a stupid thing to do. My fingers were numbed in just a few minutes. The views of the mountains on the other side of McMurdo Sound are spectacular. Mt. Discovery, Black Island, and The Royal Society Range of the Trans-Antarctic Mountains are so sharp and clear against the deep blue sky that they look like they are just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away, but actually they are 30-80 miles away.

As I flew in from Christchurch today I kept hoping that we would not have a "boomerang flight", a flight which gets most of the way to Antarctica and then has to turn around and go back to New Zealand because of bad weather conditions in McMurdo. Instead, our flight was beautiful with no hassles except a delay on the ground in New Zealand as some mechanical problem was worked out. The plane was nothing like your typical airplane. It was a military cargo plane that had 4 rows of mesh and canvas seats that ran about 1/2 the length of the plane so that we were sitting knee-to-knee facing each other with no room for people to walk around. If people had to get up to stretch their legs or go to the bathroom ( a normal plane toilet for the women, a big metal drum behind a curtain for men) they had to crawl over people or somehow find places to put their feet on the seats or on the floor. This was parcticularly awkward because we were all wearing our extreme weather gear including our huge rubber "bunny-boots". It was quite a balancing act. We had to wear foam ear-plugs to protect our ears from the constant loud sound of the engines since there is no sound insulation in the plane. The plane had only two tiny windows, and I was blessed to have 1 of them right behind my head. This was wonderful because as we approached Antarctica I was able to see the ice and mountains below me. Huge expanses of white stretched out below me as far as the eye could see, but it wasn't the pure white you might expect. It was a beautiful mosaic of abstract patterns of different shades of gray and white suddenly interrupted by huge gashes of dark open water where the ice had broken apart. In many places there were icebergs that had broken loose in earlier years and were now frozen solid in the ice. Their shadows added a beautiful texture to the snow. In other places the dark cliffs of mountain peaks barely poked up through mantle of white snow that seemed to almost smother them in its depth. I doubt my photos, photographed through a very dirty window, will capture anywhere near the beauty of the scenes that are etched in my mind's eye.

The plane landed on the sea ice which is still frozen solid. As I look out across McMurdo Sound towards Mt Discovery from the lab computer room I can see the plane sitting on the airstrip, just a few feet of ice separating it from the cold depths of the ocean. Question to think about: Why didn't the plane which was full of people and thousands of pounds of cargo break through the ice when it landed?

It is so amazing being here! It is nothing like the conditions experienced by the early explorers in their dark huts warmed by blubber-stoves eating seal meat and pemmican. We are not stranded out here all by ourselves. It is like a little town here and so far everyone seems friendly. We are connected to the rest of the world in an instant by telephone and e-mail. All the buildings are warm and toasty with electricity and computers and all the scientific equipment you can imagine. The Crary Lab is as well supplied with scientific equipment as any lab in the USA. The cafeteria has unlimited food with a variety of choices for the main meal and vegetables. Tonight I had turkey and mashed potatoes with gravy! There are lots of yummy desserts and there is even a self-serve soft ice-cream machine. I expect I will tell you more about the lab and McMurdo in future journals. Now I must go chat with the other members of my research team, unpack my bags for my 5 week stay, and meet my new room-mate. I hope he doesn't snore!

For the next 2 days I will be attending "Happy Camper School" where I will learn how to survive in a snowstorm if we are stranded out on one of our fishing trips. I don't know much about what I'll be learning except that we will be learning how to build a snow shelter and might even be sleeping in it overnight. I hope the weather conditions stay as nice as they are now. Don't worry, I'll pack lots of warm clothes, my water bottle, my sunscreen, my camera, and any other things suggested on the list that arrived in my e-mail messages today.

It's 9:00 at night but it is still sunny outside. The pattern of shadows on the face of the mountains has changed continuously since I've been here, but it will never get dark as long as I am here. The last sunset was Oct 25th, the next one won't be until February sometime. Will I be able to sleep OK?

I hope you have a good day and do something good for someone.

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