25 January, 1997
It is another gray day in the Taylor Valley with the temperature at -4 celcius. The skies here look much like Seattle with many shades of that wonderful gray. Clouds are low, but I know it will not rain, maybe snow!
As I plan for the day's activities I am aware that this field camp must be closed down for the season. Most of the scientific equipment gets packaged up and returned to the Crary Lab for the winter. This means that time is limited for microscope use since they too must be sent back in a few days. I am sharing with Emily, the graduate student who is studying the ciliates and flagelates in all of the lakes in this valley and Dr. Kepner who is looking at and enumeration some virus like parcticles that we think are viruses. He has at least 4 days worth of counting parcticles on his slides using much the same techinques that I have been using, that is, counting by using the epiflourescent microscope. His samples have been stained with a dye called yo-pro that stains nucleic acids. I believe he is the first person to have looked at virus like parcticles as a possible source of carbon in the dry valley lakes. He still needs to get a scanning electron microscope picture of these parcticles to show that they are really viruses. Until then, he calls them virus like parcticles. There is a high demand for time on the microscope. Knowing this, I have volunteered to go back to McMurdo Station and use the microscopes in the Crary Lab to finish my work on the rotifers. After much discussion because both Ray and Em really needed to use the microscope and because they really wanted me to feel included and part of the team, we agreed that I could do my work easily at the Crary Lab while they needed to stay at the Lake Hoare field camp to help with closing as well as to collect more samples. I assured them that I really did feel included, a team member and as part of the team, I could use the scopes full time at Crary with no competition. Thus, I was allowed to consider asking for a helo for late on Saturday.
The helo was scheduled to arrive sometime after 4:00 p.m. so I have most of the day to collect any additional samples that I need and prepare any further FLMs and FLOs. I then have to pack up my tent! What a daunting task. I have the two orange duffle bags from ASA, my own bag and the sleep kit to organize. Once packed, I bag drag out to the upper helo pad and my things join the ever growing pile of items to be taken back to McMurdo. The kiwis are also leaving today and they have a mountain of items that are packed into a sling load. As they prepare to leave, the helo slowly lifts off and suddenly the sling opens dropping their gear all over the place! Sleeping bags and tent become airborn as the helo slowly lands again. Even the weighted down items from the retro pile start to become airborn. The helo props quickly slow down and we all begin the retrieval process and repack the sling. Then Paula the magnificent, the camp manager, goes up to the helo and hooks the sling rope to the belly of the helo while the blades are whirling, sand flying and air vibrating with the noise. Lift off again and we all hold our breath.Its up and away this time, whew!
I then collect my last mat sample and package up the supplies that I will need at Crary Lab. I take a walk around the camp and out onto the ice of Lake Hoare. This is truly a unique and wonderful place. The air is crisp with a strong breeze blowing and mostly cloudy skies give the warning of winter's approach. The sun dips behind the peaks for longer periods of time. The feeling of summer in the dry valley is gone for this year. I feel lucky to have had some time here to share the science and the experience in Antarctica. I am not ready to leave yet, not having garnered enough of the essence of the valley into my pores. I hear the helo coming, so I must be off. Will I ever be back? Dr. Kepner asked me to consider returning for the season next year - hmmmmmm. It seems that my lab skills have met with his approval
The helo ride back to McMurdo Station included a fueling stop at Marble Point, a pick up at Lake Frixell and a return along the ice edge. I am surprised at how much sea ice has melted in the two weeks since I first flew over this area. Large cracks can be seen over the entire surface. The area looks like a huge jigsaw puzzle being pulled apart from all directions. The water is deep blue with huge icebergs, the sky a lighter shade blue. Seals lie about on the floating ice in small groups.
I saw at least a dozen orca whales feeding close to the ice edge. There are penguins who seem to be waving at us as we fly low over the ice and have a wonderful view of the whole sound. The pilot seems to enjoy our excitment at having a chance to see the wild life and does his best to point out more whales, seals and penguins.
Back at McMurdo, a room is waiting for me at Hotel California, but I have missed the dinner hour. I really don't mind since I still have plenty of snickers bars left over from field camp. People rely on snickers as a staple for energy. ( It is not considered a snack)
Tomorrow I will be in the Crary Lab.
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