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Letters From Antarctica

Easter roughly marked the halfway point of my voluntary internment here on The Ice, almost exactly six months since I left my apartment to come down to the South Pole.

I took inventory of the personal supplies I brought with me and am surprised at how much I have left. At my current rate of usage, I haven’t even dented my stash of soap, shampoo, razors and deodorant. Even though the summer water restrictions have been lifted, including the twice-weekly, two minute showers, I haven’t increased my frequency of bathing.

I have found that in this icy, dirt free environment where I spend virtually all my time indoors, getting dirty is simply not an issue. I can wear the same clothes for many days in a row, something I wouldn’t dream of trying back in the States. The only impetus for more frequent trips to the shower is when I was working out in our small but well equipped gym under The Dome. I haven’t been able to do this lately because of an injury to my left hip and leg after a slip and fall on The Ice many weeks ago.

Even though water is abundant now that our population has shrunk from 221 to 50, we are still suprisingly on the edge of capacity for electricity production from our diesel generators. This is almost entirely due to the extra power needed to keep inhabited structures warm now that our winter temperatures have plummeted.

The average temperature in April is about minus sixty degrees Centigrade, not counting wind chill, which often drives temperatures well under minus one hundred. Our seasons are opposite in the Southern Hemisphere, so we are heading into winter. We’re in the middle of a six-week sunset, and technically still under "Nautical" twilight until May 9th.

Several Aurora Australis have already been sighted (none yet by me). The auroras are always there, but during the summer they are washed out by the ambient, constant daylight of summer. Once the skies darken fully to "Astronomical" twilight, or what the casual observer would consider true darkness. Then, the auroras should be visible in their full tapestry of colors.

I was aurora hunting the other day when the zipper on my red, polar jacket broke. The ramifications of this quickly became apparent, as I could no longer use my hands for anything other that trying to keep the front flap of my jacket sealed. The problem with this was that I "only" had on two layers of gloves. I should've been wearing my ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) issued "bear claws." but I usually keep my gloved hands in my jacket pockets for the extra protection.

Fortunately, I was only one hundred meters or so outside The Dome, so the solution was to go back inside to BioMed. I quickly went to the sink and ran warm water over my numb fingertips. No frostbite, just a bit of "nip."

The plastic zipper itself had broken into several unrepairable pieces, so a sewing machine fix was not an option. Self-repair of one’s own ECW gear is an essential skill. any people's ECW clothing is literally in tatters by the end of the season, from all the rough work.

Not having a polar jacket in the middle of a Pole winter is like being sentenced to the indoors. We are also issued green outer jackets, which are considered somewhat of a status symbol, because only Poley's get them, and not the people stationed at McMurdo and Palmer stations.

Strangely, the green jackets are not nearly as warm as the polar red ones, so you never see them being worn in the winter. I think the best use for them was during R&R visits to McMurdo back in the summer, when a person could really stand out from the majority of the other Antarctic workers, and be identified as a Poley by wearing his or her "green."

Back to Pole and my zipper. Fortunately, I found out we have a cache of backup ECW gear, and I was able to trade in my red jacket for another of the same type. My broken jacket will eventually be flown back to McMurdo for repair once the summer, light, and relative warmth return, several months from now. A broken zipper would typically be a nuisance back home.

Here it threatened to affect my lifestyle for an entire winter.

We had an Easter Egg dyeing party, and there was a regular, sit-down Easter dinner with white linen tablecloths. The menu featured baked Brie, jumbo shrimp cocktail, prime rib, Cornish Hens, dressing, and much more. The beakers (scientists) came to the rescue with some frozen nitrogen from their lab out at the Dark Sector, and we were able to produce some excellent, frozen sorbet at the last minute.

This was another typical example of Pole resourcefulness. There aren’t any other major holidays between now and "Winfly" (the first flight of the next summer season). The initial shock of being stuck here for the long, dark winter seems to have been replaced by a calm resignation. It’s not like there’s anything we can do about it anyway.

Leaving is not an option until Winfly, sometime in October or November. Everyone seems to understand and accept that for now.

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