Dan Weinstein - November, 1996

    From: Dan Weinstein, Palmer Station

As we write in the Teacher's Guide the science done in the Antarctic critically depends upon the support teams who keep the Zodiacs in shape, staff the labs, cook the food, and keep the scientists in touch with their universities back home.

Dan Weinstein is a "GA", General Assistant, working for Antarctic Support Associates, ASA, which is NSF's contractor for all logisitics and support activities in the Antarctic. He's been at Palmer since summer 1996, and he's going to be working with the LFA 2 team during the upcoming live broadcasts.

This Journal is eloquent testimony to the presence in the Antarctic of a variety of people with varied experiences who make up the USAP. It also shows that along with very hard work and sometimes dangerous circumstances, the Antarctic invites its visitors to reflect deeply upon the paths which led them here, and express themselves, in diaries and in letters to others, in ways that are as much literature as "journal-ism".


Fri, 1 Nov 1996 22:07:50 -0500
Palmer life is happening without much excitement these days. Winds picked up today and it's still raining, the ice is all gone for a while. The population went down significantly, so the dining room seems desolate sometimes at meal times.

I've been keeping an introspective eye on my own psyche, cause I can see how erosion takes place, it's really kind of fascinating. I've been really puzzled by the fact that the number of people on station would seem large enough that you wouldn't get the symptomatology of isolated environments. And in some respects we don't. Sometimes I think that if there were only 4 or 5 of us, we'd suffer less than being 30 or however many we are now. It seems to me that we get the worst of both worlds, the effects of isolation, and of group dynamics at the same time.

Mon, 4 Nov 1996 05:00:05 -0500
Today turned out to include a beautiful afternoon, so we did a little boating. We went to Cormorant Island, shot tons of pictures of penguins, cormorants, elephant seals the size of boulders, icebergs, and petrels. Nice and relaxing. Now it's 1:20 am and I am yawning, and sleepy and ready to hit the sack. Of course that won't happen until after 6am.

My mind is wondering aimlessly, and for some reason, it brought me back to India, a year and a half ago. I was in a small village about 4 hours South of Madras. I went to a performance of a play from the Mahabarata. It was only one actor and one musician. The stage was lit only by an oil lamp, the one actor played both Arjuna and Pima (?) Arjuna killed a deer today, Pima didn't kill anything. They were cousins, I think, but also enemies, two warring sides of one consciousness. Oh, it was a wonderful play. It was well into the night when the play ended. I rode my bicycle back to the guest house and on the way I stopped by the side of the road, and walked through the woods out to an open field. First I sat down to look at the sliver of a moon and the stars, then I lay on my back.

The earth felt warm with the heat saved from the burning day. The air was fresh with the dry scent of cashew trees. The breeze danced with the stars titillating and with the crickets singing. My hands were full of dry grass, and dust, caressing the earth as I would a woman, my poor India, my black India.

Tue, 5 Nov 1996 11:20:24 -0500
My father used to be a big man, but he's shrunk considerably. He lives in New York, and he just retired last year. His thing was insurance, claims and stuff for steamship companies. He was an opera singer when he was young, but then he got married and had to get a real job.

My Dad believes God is in India right now. There's this one guru called Sai Baba who claims to be the new avatar (incarnation of... boy, now I can't remember if it's Vishnu or Shiva, Vishnu, I think, comes in avatars, nine have already happen counting from times immemorial, the tenth one is debatable, some say it was Buddha, others say it's yet to come, my dad says it's Sai Baba).

My father had many different jobs in his life. When I was eight years old, he worked in an office during the day, and drove a taxi at night, taught English on weekends. I liked all of his jobs, the teaching business was nice 'cause he'd get these high school students to come home, and some of them were cute girls, probably the first ones I laid eyes on. Then the taxi driving job was even better cause sometimes he'd take me with him. We would drive down the cobblestones streets of Buenos Aires. Our radio played tangos, and my eyes, wide awake, followed the lonely shadows, and walk furtively, dressed in night and fog and melancholy.

One time we had to drive this car for how don't know how many kilometers at 60 kms/hour because the engine had just been rebuilt. My father, a buddy of his and I went driving for the weekend, and we drove the endless straight roads of la pampa. It was hours and hours of fields, and cows, and corn, and wheat, and telephone posts and telephone cable, and birds and skies chilled blue, and the crisp bright sun of early winter.

We slept in the car the first night, and I nearly froze. The following night, we just stopped at a randomly picked estancia and asked the gaucho for some shelter. He lived by himself, and was old and his name was Zoilo (a funny name even for Spanish speaking people). We stayed the night in his house and left early in the morning. Zoilo gave us coffee and some pastries that my father told me not to eat.

The end of our journey was a town call Azul, which means blue. I don't remember the town itself but I know it is surrounded by hills, and it's quite pretty. The return home was much shorter. My father left Argentina when I was 9 years old. I didn't see him again until 12 years later in New York. I had come from Connecticut to see him. He came to meet me at Grand Central Station. I got off the train and I walked past him not being sure it was him. And he watched me walk by him not being sure it was me.

Thu, 7 Nov 1996 11:38:52 -0500
Yesterday, as I began my rounds I found a dead seagull. Do you think it's an omen? I told one of the penguin guys. The bird ended up in the hands of the Doc. who found fleas on its body. Poor beast, weathering the harshest climate and yet it couldn't free itself from vermin.

Days are very long these days, and that's good. Yesterday was a lovely evening, with the bright sun of a morning rather than the end of a day. Work isn't bad these days, although sleep is still erratic. And that's the end of CNN's top stories from Palmer.

Thu, 14 Nov 1996 09:32:43 -0500
Yesterday after dinner, we went to Cormorant Island, which is off limits unless you have a permit. As it turned out one of the card-carrying members of the inner circle had to do some work over there, so it worked out really well. There was some grass on the rocks over there, as well as moss. I walked around a few penguin colonies, Adelies, although I saw a couple of Chinstraps. There was an elephant seal hanging out and I took lots of pictures of my future reincarnation. I also took lots of photos of some cormorants but they were not posing very well, they were too busy picking the lice off themselves.

John was flying a kite that holds a camera which he controls with remote controls. I was gonna make a snow angel for the camera but I chickened out and I only waved. It was a gorgeous day. It was the third sunny day in a row.

Fri, 15 Nov 1996 22:10:16 -0500
It's been soooo sunny and bright, it's been incredible. Yesterday, we went out with crazy Bill and Craig. We just putzed around for a while. Loudwater Cove was lovely, and I was lying on my side at the bow of the zodiac trying my seal impersonation, which was recognized by Craig, even though I hadn't said a word to him about my obsession with those mammals. I took lots of pictures of the edge of the glacier, there were some pinnacles at the top of the wall, formed who knows how, and all the cracks and the blankets of snow over the blue chiseled fragments of ice, and at the bottom, supporting all the weight of centuries of ice were rocks, rounded like toes, barely showing.

Work has been going really well. With all the new people brought in by the Duke I spent the first four hours of my rounds socializing. Last night, I did some work for Mark the Cook and he said you can have any meal you want. While taking boxes out of the freezer I detected a small lonely jar of Danish caviar, maybe not the best but surely the only one. So tomorrow I'll be having bagels w/cream cheese and caviar, isn't life just splendid?

Sat, 16 Nov 1996 11:31:51 -0500
Now, speaking of indulgence, that breakfast, mama mia! que delicia. One sesame bagel cut in half, one side cream cheese and caviar, the other cream cheese, a slice of tomato and lox, ate one half at a time of course, did not put them together. Mark's special coffee blend, oh, what a delight. Then I did exactly the same thing but taking a poppy seed one. then I went for half a bagel with cheese and caviar for the road. Didn't want a refill cause I wanna get some sleep but...mmmmmmmm ... it was sooo good.

Plus, Mama Rosen who would have been so proud of her son this morning, sent Mark a few sections from past Sunday New York Times. So I was reading the Travel Section, an article about Tuscany, and trying to remember if "Stealing Beauty", was that the title?, with that Liv Tyler girl, had been filmed in Tuscany.

Wed, 20 Nov 1996 12:05:18 -0500
Last night was a quiet nite, and I wasn't feeling very productive, so I did a bit of work in that Hazardous storage room and then Carol (as in Carol & Cheech, they handle cargo) was up at 3am cause she said she went to bed early and now she couldn't sleep anymore. So she was at the Penguin Bar drinking coffee and having a cig. So we started chatting about Nepal, and exchanging Kathmandu stories, and all those temples around (what was it?) Durga, Durban Square? I'm so bad with names, and Boddinah, the one with the huge dome and the funky Buddha eyes, and the Hindu temple where they do the cremations by that sacred river, and the little Kumari waving from her temple/prison.

One and a half hours just flew by, so then it was 4 and I had to do my rounds and when I get to the Biolab I see this berg which had been parked right off Bonaparte Point for days and up till 2 of today, well, now is right in front of us across the inlet, and it's moving towards Sid and Deneb's experiments hanging from some floats. So I got Sid out of bed, we tried doing a couple of things from shore, then he went and got Deneb up, and then Don, and then they had this rescue staged for the embryos operation. My job was doing the comms. from shore and documenting the event (taking pictures with Sid's camera). Embryos were saved, lots of people were woken up with the radio exchanges, the clouds lifted their skirts for the sun to peek, the iceberg run aground right before the buoys, and it was time for breakfast.

Sat, 23 Nov 1996 11:17:54 -0500

Scenic Torgersen Island with Litchfield Island across the bay.

Snow's been melting in a big way, and guess what? there were happily living plants under all that snow and ice! There are some in many places around the station, one type is just grass, the other type looks like moss, and then there's the orange and the yellow lichens.

I was so happy to see this, it was during one of my rounds when I have to go check a millvan freezer we got near the pier. I kneeled down and touched it. The moss wasn't soft like I thought it would be. I remembered when I was hiking through some forest in Malaysia and came upon a large patch of the most beautiful moss around a very tall tree. It was soft and deep . I lay down on my side so I could feel that light green freshness on my face, and I stayed there for a long long time.

Last night at 3am I had to wake up Sid again. Some chunks of ice were threatening those sea urchin embryos they got cooking. Oh, and I missed this, but we had a bit of verbal aggression last night over what movie was to be watched. Somebody had reserved a certain movie for 7:30 PM but other people were in the middle of watching another movie, and somebody got a bit angry over that. It's interesting to see how people get irritated over all these things that seem silly from the outside but are felt very important when they constitute your entertainment for the week or your rest for the day or your space for the season.

The other morning, I turned on the grinder, I wasn't really thinking, you know for me it made little difference that it was 6am. But this guy came down furious cause his room was right above it and he was yelling that he can hear every conversation in the lounge and that the grinder at 6am is "dirty pool" and all that. I felt so bad, particularly cause none of it was directed to me cause I had walked away from the scene of the crime, so Don (the station manager) kinda looked like the guilty one and he got all the yelling. The guy stormed out after the 10 second blow out so I had no chance to say sorry until much later in the day, when I woke up again. I felt bad cause I know from trying to sleep during the day, how horrible it is when you hear people making noises all around you that are completely unnecessary.

But to go back to the pt. I was trying to make, these little incidents are indicative of the erosion that our minds are suffering. As a result of that grinder incident, I found out that Don's room is right by the stairs, and the walls of these buildings are so thin that he can hear every step someone takes walking up the stairs. He didn't say anything to me, nor was he really complaining, but I know that I shuffle my sorrel boots big time and I go up and down those stairs every two hours, every single night. I mean it's so easy to think everyone else is inconsiderate and you're putting up with all this stuff and not realize how you step on other people's toes without even knowing it. All of this is a very valuable experience for me, and if I come out of this just a bit more tolerant I'll be very satisfied with my gains.

Anyhow, we'll have a party tonite. Two of the guys have been working in secret after hours and built a strobe light for our dance floor. Isn't that nice of them? I think they're gonna debut it tonite. They were also thinking about a mirror ball.

Back to Field Journals Menu Back to Dan Weinstein' Journals Palmer Station