"Pen Pal Dog Ear"
Dr. Ralph Bovard - December 18, 1996
The Doctor and the Students: learning through letters

    From: Jefferson Elementary and Dr. Ralph Bovard, Palmer Station.

Over the past few months, Palmer's resident doctor, Dr. Ralph Bovard, has corresponded via e-mail with students from the 5th grade class taught by one of Ralph's old high school friends, Scott Peterson, and another 5th grade class taught by Scott's wife, Janet. These letters provide a fascinating portrait both of a place and a person, and also shows what interests young people about Antarctica and the unusual group of people who live and work there.

Mason City, Iowa, is the River City of Meredith Wilson's "Music Man" and Ralph's hometown. Ralph's folks still live there. His family lives up at Clear Lake in the summers which is where Buddy Holly played his last gig with the Big Bopper and Richie Valens before they were killed in a plane crash in February 1959. Some of these letters served double duty going both to family and the 5th grade class.

P.S. We really will try to find out why Ralph has the nom d'email, Dogear (or is it Doggear?)


Date: Wed, 18 Dec 1996 14:22:23 +0000
From: Jefferson Elementary
To: Ralph Bovard
Subject: Christmas

Dear Ralph,

Merry Christmas!

What do you want for Christmas?

These are some of the things we want for Christmas....
-big fluffy bear
-stomp pad [for a snowboard]
-CD player
-CD holder
-baby brother
-fantastic nails
-chain wallet
-Nintendo 64

When we get back to school, we'll make a video of our school and us. We'd like you to do the same. We've been trying to imagine what the place where you work and live looks like.

Do you live in, a hut, igloo, apartment, cabin, or a small house? It's hard for us to envision what the "camp" looks like. Is it snowy all the time? Do you go out on the water quite often? Does it ever scare you?

Mr. Petersen went to the 8th grade boys basketball game last night ( John Adams vs. Clear Lake.) It's So cold here today that we have indoor recess. ( Wind chill at -24 F ) .

Merry Christmas!
Stacy Russeff, Nate Stevens, Mike Nielsen.


From: Ralph Bovard
To: Scott Petersen and class
Subject: Xmas and New Years Greetings
Date: Sun, 22 Dec 1996 13:28:02 -0500

To Stacy, Nate, Mike, & the 5th grade class,

Thanks for your e-mail message. I am sure that you are all enjoying the Christmas vacation at the moment. Thanks for updating me on the MCHS swimming and basketball teams. I really don't want anything special for Christmas. I am getting some books on the ship which arrived today. Other than that a chance to relax with some friends, play some soccer on the glacier, and talk to my family on the phone and I will be happy. I hope you all get the things you need.

"Aerial" of Palmer Station from Polar Duke crow's nest.

The video would be great. I will try to do the same. The station is comprised of a bunch of blue metal sided buildings built in the late 1960's by the Navy. I keep most of my things in a dormitory room or the medical clinic, but sleep outside in a tent where I can look out over the harbour, and get fresh air every night. Sometimes the rumbling sound of icebergs breaking off the glacier and falling into the sea wakes me up. It is louder than a locomotive, and the bigger the piece of ice, the louder the noise.

Arched iceberg.

Although it was the first day of the Austral summer (our seasons are the opposite of yours because we are at the opposite end of the Earth) yesterday on the 21st of December we still have snow. The glacier that covers the island like a giant blanket never melts and is hundreds of feet thick. The snow accumulates on top each winter, is compressed down into the glacial mass with each snowfall, year after year, and expands toward the sea very slowly like icecubes sliding down a very gradual incline/slide. By the time the glacier ice gets to the sea and breaks off it may be centuries or even thousands of years old. The more compressed the ice gets, the more crystalline it appears, just as coal is compressed into diamonds... well, sort of like that.

The air temp here has been 0 to 5 above centigrade. The sea water stays about 0 degrees centigrade. It doesn't freeze because of the salt content until it is about a -2 C, unlike fresh water -- which freezes at what temperature? Starting to sound like a teacher aren't I?

Say "hi" to Mr. Petersen. What are your New Year's resolutions? What did you get for Xmas? What did you get Mr. Petersen for Xmas?

Later 'Gators,
Ralph Bovard


To: Scott Petersen and students
Subject: Merry Christmas
Date: Thu, 26 Dec 1996 11:57:06 -0500

Dear Jefferson 5th grade class,

Merry Christmas and a delightful new year to you all from the austral regions of Antarctica. No we are NOT having penguin for xmas dinner... as many have wondered. We have it for breakfast. Seal for lunch. And a whale of a meal for supper. It was 9 degrees centigrade yesterday (about 48 F) for Christmas Day. Another humpbacked whale swam through the harbour.

Cheers, Ralph


From: Ralph Bovard
To: Scott and Janet Petersen and their 5th graders
Date: Sat, 4 Jan 1997 10:51:58 -0500

Greetings Scott, Janet, and all your rambunctious 5th graders:

Thought you would be interested in this little tidbit of information. The crew has arrived here and is getting set up. This is a very coincidental but timely coincidence for our Antarctic communications. They also have a Web site as you may note below and are fielding questions from school kids to use on the show. So pummel them with questions and I am talking with the guys here and have shared some of the Jeff kids letters with them. Can't guarantee anything will be used but if you put yourself in the path of the gods sometimes they trip over/notice you.

Got offered job on "Mask of Zorro" being filmed in Mexico with Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins but cant go because I am here. Arghhhhhhh!

Hope you all teachers and students alike had a grand holiday respite. There is a huge slab iceberg just beyond the harbour. Looks like a city block and about 250 ft high. There is an iceberg floating off NZ side of Antarctica that is bigger than Rhode Island!

Later 'Gators.

(Ed note: Ralph then shared the LFA 2 online announcement.)


Date: Tue, 07 Jan 1997 11:25:30 +0000
From: Roosevelt Elementary
To: Ralph Bovard
Subject: Cool Research

Dear Ralph,

Thanks for your letter! It is so exciting to learn about the PBS Antarctic programs. When I read your and Eric's letters to my class there was magic! They are so pumped for this. We hope you had a memorable holiday, too. Eric was right about the weather...-40 to-50 wind chill we have been experiencing. Today it is warmer...in the 20s. I best sign off.

Take care and God bless.

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