Station Opening

Date: Sat, 28 Oct 2000

To everybody's surprise we left McMurdo on schedule last Monday. I was on the 2nd of two passenger flights bringing a total of 79 new people to a group of 50 who haven't seen an outside face since February. The first few days were a bit awkward. People here have drifted a bit out of the normal pattern of conversation. They might talk without pause for breath for two minutes, then stop and look at us - waiting for a reaction? No more words? I don't suppose they could explain any better than we could. Of course the folks I got to be friends with last summer are still friends. Some people are absolutely the same, some people are simultaneously tetchy and vulnerable. Some people whom I had no particular connection with last summer are now striking up conversations. I suppose a slightly familiar face is better than the totally new.

It has been an unusually difficult winter here. The community was divided by some strong personality conflicts, and there was a tragedy way back in May: one of the scientists, a young popular guy, just up and keeled over. We won't know why his heart stopped until they do an autopsy in Christchurch. He's in a temporary burial out at the Pole now, scheduled to be shipped out on Monday. It's been kept pretty quiet so his family isn't subjected to the kind of media circus that happened when Dr. Nielsen got breast cancer here. Most folks have adjusted but there are occasional references to him in conversation that I don't always pick up on at the time. With eight months of enforced isolation here, winter people just have to deal with whatever happens - gracefully or not.

After the first day of flights we had a few days of bad weather, first here then in McMurdo, so we all had some time to adjust to each other before the next big population rise. Now it's starting to feel more like the summer season, with flights in and out, mail, people, fresh food, all the things we consider normal. I think the winterovers are starting to let go of their ownership of the station. We've had one medevac due to altitude sickness: an older man who was part of the Navy crew who built this station back in the early '70s. He'll stay in McMurdo, at sea level, but we're sorry to lose his stories. He did suggest to me on the way in that not all of his stories were repeatable in polite company.

I've been back working a shift on the radios since we've got a couple new operators. One is simultaneously training in Comms and preparing to be the next winter station manager, so he's got other responsibilities; and our other operator just caught up to us, so she's got some training time yet. I'm hoping to be able to switch to my real job soon. I've been doing informal computer support and I've started teaching some evening classes, but it's not the same as being available for normal working hours.

Overall, I'm pretty happy right now. I enjoy the work - radios are fun, computers are fun - it's great to see friends and meet new people, and the place itself is still pretty cool even without the thrill of seeing it all for the first time. I drank lots and lots of water this time so I only had an altitude headache for a day. Yay water. The station manager started the last orientation by saying, "Welcome to the South Pole - start drinking!"

I hope you're all well and holding up the outside world without me.



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