Terry's Field Journal: July in McMurdo - parties and midwinter blues (c) Terry Trimingham July 28, 1995
July 8, 1995 I know what the date says at the top of the page, but "Happy Fourth of July" to you! (We are celebrating the holiday with a two day weekend, and the big party is today, Saturday).
Last Sunday was the midwinter "polar plunge" at Scott Base. It had been nice weather in the morning, but a bit of a breeze came up in the afternoon. I found a friend that was willing to walk to Scott Base with me, and we had a bit of a slog against the wind, but the minute we stepped onto Scott Base it grew very calm! We arrived just after the last of the "polar plungers" had done their thing....too bad.
It was so calm and I was so toasty that I ALMOST considered jumping in the water. I probably would have had the others been there doing it, I think with a little peer excitement I could have been encouraged into it. As it was I merely strolled over to the hole and looked (of course, I HAD to put my fingers in to feel the water!). The water didn't seem all that cold, and there was steam rising up out of the hole. The hole itself was square and pretty large for what I had been expecting (about 6x6'). It had taken the Kiwis a few days with chain saws to cut through the ice. There was a plank on one side that folks had jumped off, and a ladder on the other side to climb out on. Both were entirely encased in thick ice from all the previous activity I had missed.
Inside there were a lot of people in the bar, all with wet hair. They were "initiating" each other to some polar swim club, and I think the initiation ceremony got more elaborate with each person. Something to do with a stiff drink, painting one of the pinkie fingernails blue, and rubbing the chalk for the pool cue on your nose to leave a blue ring! Some folks had jumped TWICE, the first time they did it there hadn't been a video camera around, so they did it again for the 'proof'!
Scott Base is really quite civilized: there was a nice gas BBQ right in the galley! We had a terrific BBQ meal of shish-kebab, NZ sausages (more like our hot dogs), some kind of chops, as well as bread and some salads.
Monday I went home and worked on my rag rug...it is going to be HUGE (much bigger than I originally envisioned). It took me an hour to put on just one row. I am now doing the finishing-up by applying a border of black (I ran out of colors).
Wednesday in the morning I went out to Hut Point before work. It is so pretty, and now is our darkest time. The moon came up at midday, but in the early hours it was still moonless, and I could see some auroras dancing out above the sea ice in front of McMurdo. I thought of Star Trek, or some sci-fi movie. Here was this wispy ghost-like "creature" wavering and glimmering just out of the reach of McMurdo, while in town everyone was completely oblivious to this spontaneous dancer. It was really special.
Thursday we started steam-cleaning the floor in the shop for the party. We have two portable steam cleaning machines, but this was a BIG job. In the morning we moved all the work benches, cabinets, tool boxes, etc. out of the shop, and in the afternoon we scrubbed soap on the floor with big brooms, and then someone would come along and steam the floor, and we would all squee-gee it clean and dry. We were pretty beat by the end of the day.
The party was like a picnic you would have at home for the Fourth. It was very smoky when we walked in, in spite of the BBQ hood which hooked into our ventilation system. So we had to open the big doors from time to time. I saw a pig on the rotisserie, and also cooking were Italian sausages, corn on the cob, and chicken. This food was rounded out with potato salad, baked beans, coleslaw and bread. Everyone seemed to be in jolly moods. My boss was the first in the dunk tank, and he started off something that was very popular, and went on for a few hours. The dunk tank also raised a lot of money (it will go to a charity in Christchurch). There were also horseshoes, ping-pong, hopscotch, and basketball. A small band that played some folk music when the DJ didn't have discs spinning, and later in the evening our winter-over band played (and they are pretty darn good!).
The party was a BIG success. It was really mellow, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. I had the same feeling I did when the shop hosted the Christmas party in December: everyone was feeling happy and festive and enjoying one another's company.
The rest of July was a big let down after the Fourth celebration. This is the time of year when everything here seems a drudge. People are sick of their jobs, sick of the food, sick of seeing the same old same old, and totally sick of each other. Everyone is moody and on edge it seems. Sometimes it is hard to know if it is really THEM, or if it isn't just YOU (it could be all in my mind!). It seems like the light will never come, and it is difficult to get motivated to do anything!
I did finish my rag rug: it is beautiful, and quite large (about 4'x 5'). Playing darts on Friday evenings had made me forget about going to Spanish club for 6 weeks or so, but I started going again, and it is nice to make my brain strain in another language for something different.
In the middle of July we had a Sunday evening "murder mystery" party. We all dressed up in 60's clothes, and tried to guess "who done it" while certain characters read lines from a script. It was in the Captain's Hut, and very nicely done. We had an amazing spread of food, including the last of fresh fruit from airdrop that someone had saved. I wore my hair long and parted in the middle with a tie-dyed T-shirt and bell-bottomed hip huggers I made from some work pants. My sewing job was pretty fly-by-night: I stapled in extra triangular panels of material to make bell-bottoms, and then duct-taped on some lace at the bottom. They were ugly, just like in the 60's!. It was fun to see the costumes everyone wore, and some folks I had a hard time recognizing.
By the end of July we were getting some twilight during the midday. On a walk to Castle Rock the sky was magnificent - red at the bottom line of the horizon that reached up in fiery orange and thinned out to a pale yellow/light-blue up above. The hearty stars are still out overhead, but they are twinkling in a pale blue instead of black. You can see the Royal Societies and Mt. Discovery once again, almost forgotten after weeks and weeks of black.
Things have become VERY routine. One Thursday the galley decided to serve hamburgers at lunch. Usually burgers are on Saturday, and I for one got all confused what day it was! I knew it wasn't Saturday, but thought perhaps it was Friday. Seeing the store open really got me going (it is only open Tuesdays and Thursdays). What a strange life when food dictates what day it is!
The last Sunday in July I went on a crevasse trip. There was a group of nine of us that had signed up, and we all went to the ice fall out by Silver City. It was very overcast that day, and the temperature seemed to be up to about -10F, with no wind. The sky in the late morning was light, but with the clouds it was subdued...no mountains anywhere. We donned helmets and ice axes, then roped up and walked up the slope to where there was a big crevasse. Inside you could see bluish light up above, but at first I couldn't tell if I was looking at blue ice or sky! (It was sky). There was a lantern in the crevasse, and it's light flickered all over and make neat shadows. It was very magical to be down in the belly of the ice, a completely still and quiet crystalline vault. I am glad to have had the opportunity to do things like that!
Copyright (c)1995 Terry Trimingham. This information may be redistributed online for education projects as long as this copyright notice is included. Permission to use this material in print or for commercial purposes must be obtained in writing prior to use from the author.