Culture shock

Date: Wed, 7 Feb 2001

Oh my goodness can we talk about culture shock? Granted South Pole has ongoing turnover, especially in the science community, so there are new people there but... on a flight day you walk into the galley and immediately pick out the new faces. Here the galley, um "Dining Facility," is ten times the size and a vast sea of unknown people. The physical change is only a slightly smaller shock: all that oxygen to breathe! Mountains to look at! Dirt!! I still stop and watch skuas soar by.

Leaving the Pole was an event in itself. My flight was the first significant group to leave the station. The band invited us to their 8am practice, which the station admin didn't appreciate when it got to be redeployment meeting time. But heck it was fun. After that was one last South Pole lunch (it was fine fine fine) and out to the flight deck (which looks a lot like the rest of the Antarctic Plateau except it has a plane on it). We loaded up and cheered when the plane got off deck.

Once we're established at flight level anybody can request a peek from the cockpit, but a cargo friend dropped a word in the loadmaster's ear so they let me know when the view was best. We do have a couple of small scratched-up windows in the cargo area but you can't beat the pilot's view! Oh my. If the South Pole itself wasn't reason enough to work there, the flight would be. Our technology might turn the trip into an afternoon's sightseeing expedition but the incredible scape of mountains and ice and snow still refute any attempt to impose a human scale on the continent. We are more closely related to the poor dead fools with their ponies and dogs and reindeer-skin sleeping bags than we want to think as we soar overhead in our tin can with wings.

Now I'm in the big city: the store is open every day, there are two bars and a coffeehouse, there's traffic in the streets and open water in Winter Quarters Bay. I'm looking forward to station close so we can get to a reasonable community size again. I'm plenty busy: I'm taking over six different summer jobs (nine summer people!), most of which I'm familiar with but of course I need the local details.

No vacation time here but I got out on a couple of trips: a "Morale Cruise" on the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea, and a snowmobile trip partway up Mt Erebus. The icebreaker took us out to the ice edge, where we cruised up and down a bit checking out the orcas that are cruising for penguins. My friend who misheard "Adelie penguins" as "deli penguins" wasn't too far off. It was an overcast day but we could still see the mountain ranges on the mainland, pearly grey in the muted light. The snowmobile trip, now that was splendid and a bit more active: we took turns driving, and once we got up to the dome area called "Room with a View" we covered some basic fieldcraft and roped up to explore a (relatively stable) crevasse. We went out in cloudy weather and came out of the crevasse to glorious blue skies and a view of Erebus, Terror and Terra Nova - all volcanoes although Erebus is the only active one. We came back along the ridge of the peninsula that we call home, the same Hut Point Peninsula that Scott and Shackelton used as a base. Strange to think that our "Heroic Age" of exploration really wasn't that long ago.

I'm a city girl now: I've got two keys and a pager to carry around, and Help Desk is officially mine as of Saturday. Summer people are starting to ship out. I find myself paying more attention to winter people that I meet than summer people. I'm enjoying the transition period and looking forward to settling in again.

Best to all,


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