Wednesday, November 18, 2009

So a botanist and a horse are at the South Pole...

Well, there's not really any horses here. But maybe we could make one out of cardboard and carpet scraps.

So I'm at the South Pole.
It's cold here, as you might expect. What you might not expect is how used to it everyone gets, and quickly too. Like today I was out helping move all of our food out of the old dome - which is destined for deconstruction - and everyone was very casually working away in the shade at about -50F. And last night, the wind died down and it was only -30 out, almost tropical! Me and a friend sat in the sauna for a while, then ran outside in our shorts and shoes to do a loop around the pole, and found it so bearable that we loitered at the pole for a few minutes, had a snowball fight, lost feeling in our hands, and bolted back to the sauna.

But I digress.

I got here about three weeks ago, just before Halloween. From Seattle, it took 11 days to get here, by way of Denver, LA, Sydney, Christchurch, and McMurdo station. We figured it was a total of about 30 hours of flying, whoa. But, from McMurdo we flew in a Basler. Baslers are awesome. They're tiny little planes (retrofitted DC-3s from the 30s, yup, the 30s) that work better in the ultra-cold than any modern planes. When you go above 10,000 feet you have to put an Oxygen tube in your nose. Like I said, awesome.

So that got me to pole. I already miss a lot of the people I met in Denver and had to leave at McMurdo (yup, miss you guys), but I'm settling in here.

THE SOUTH POLE: a fact sheet.
Elevation: 9300 feet
Average summer temp: -30F
Relative humidity: 3%
Thickness of ice under station: ~2 miles
Number of people here right now: 261
Hours of sun per day: 24
Amount of soft-serve ice cream I ate before the machine broke: so much
How I feel about the machine being broken: dismayed, horrified, despondant
What I eat instead: cake, but I'm thinking about ice cream the whole time

I live in the elevated station, the centerpiece of this giant work-camp they call South Pole station. This building is where everyone eats. It's where the gym is and the computer lab. It's where the sauna is, and the greenhouse too. Out the window of the galley you can see the ceremonial pole - positioned perfectly in front of the station. You can also see the real pole, which moves away from the station about 30 feet every year, as the ice the station sits on slides towards the ocean, pulling the whole operation with it.

All around the elevated station (named for the fact that the whole thing is on stilts in an attempt to prevent snow drifting) is scientific out-buildings, enormous telescopes, and a village of half-cylinder tents called Jamesways. The village is called summer camp and is home to most of the folks that live here as well as various carpentry shops, storage for everything, and the little climbing gym. Hurray for climbing!

We work six days a week - I'm about 2/3 in the greenhouse and spend the rest of my time working in the store - stocking beer and folding t-shirts - and doing training and drills with the rest of the trauma team. I mostly work alone, which can get a bit lonely. My main purpose is the greenhouse, which I'm cleaning right now. My mission is to get the place all cleaned and fixed up then plant it so when the last flight leaves (mid February) and the sun starts ducking for the horizon, the winter crew is already chowing on fresh veggies.

So here I am, working long hours and playing all night. Loving all of the wonderful folks down here, dancing and playing music. The hardest commodity to find here is sleep, both because of the social scene and because of the weirdness of 24 hour sunlight and living at high altitude. I do miss trees and mountains and rain and the smell of dirt. But really, I'm glad to be here.

1 comment:

M said...

What are you planning to grow?