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Journal entry 2/8/98

 

On the third attempt, we make it, I am back at Pole. I just knew it was going to succeed: as we drove out from McMurdo and approached Williams Field, the airbase on the ice sheet, I saw planes on the surface and, AND !! – the most spectacular plume of smoke rising from the airfield area and drifting away downwind, risen to a height of maybe 30 to 50 feet off the surface, probably a mile long, the most beautiful brown stripe over the white landscape that anyone could imagine – anyone, that is, whose life contains a dependency association with the humble Soot Particle.

I was so excited at the sight of this smoke trail, that I jumped up and down in the van, pointed through the windows until my fellow passengers knew that I was completely nuts, and finally the driver stopped so I could jump out and take pictures. I’m sure that they won’t show very well on the digital image         thumbdistan~2.jpg (2035 bytes)        

but that fact will only heighten the impression gained by you, dear readers, of the transience of human nature, the absurdity of one man’s obsession with Brown Wisps, the improbable yet true basis for justifying a trip to the end of the world.

I was so excited, because the smoke plume showed exactly what I had surmised. An approach to mitigating the exhaust fume work environment behind the aircraft at Pole: just lift the smoke up, only a few feet, so that it blows over the heads of the cargo ops crews, and they have clean air to work in below.

 

This was such a good portent, that I knew we would get there this time .. and we did .. and it was just like coming home to familiar faces, a familiar situation.

This was crazy! – I’m at the South Pole! – how can it possibly seem familiar?? The answer, of course, is in the vast contrast with my overwhelming impressions last year, when everything was astounding and my brain almost burst from excitement.

This time, here’s a whole bunch of people who welcome me back! "Hey Tony, good to see you again!".

 

Some things have changed, but the spirit of the place still has that magic feeling. They’ve moved some of the summer accommodations to a new cluster of tents (yes! – tents at 50 below zero !! – but they are ‘Jamesways’ which have enormously thick insulated walls, and are as big as small buildings )

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I am assigned to a ‘room’ (euphemism : = "closet" ; "compartment" ) in one of the ‘Hypertats’, which are the same size as Jamesways but are made of metal. The group of ‘tats are named after the Flintstones characters: I’m in Fred, number 6. Next to Fred are Wilma, Barney and .. Shemp. Shemp is left over from another group named after the Stooges. I presume that Betty, and also Larry, Moe and Curly, are huddled giggling elsewhere. Like his buddies, Fred steams in the bright sunlight from the oil-fired heater.

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There is a central hallway with four compartments on each side. The compartments have concertina openings, so you slide it back and squeeze in, then slide it closed. The partitions don’t go all the way up to the ceiling, and mine won’t close completely either: one loud sneeze and seven other people say ‘Gesundheit’.

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My first day is Zombie Day, adjusting to the altitude, so I very slowly and deliberately set up house in this little space. A few clothes in the cabinet, computer and camera accessories, a little table as a desk, my heating element, mug, teabags and powdered milk on the shelves. It must be like a sailor coming back on board, setting up his tiny cabin again.

I pause, and reflect on the feeling of those coming here for a full season contract. They must live in this closet for four months, bringing with them in one bag all the talismans of their previous lives. Privacy, outside space, even shared common space are either non-existent or radically different. It’s a mining camp, a lumber camp, but without any outside space to escape to. It’s a submarine stranded on a snow plateau.

I walk slowly over to the bathroom building, right near by. Inside, sinks and stalls and showers. But when I look in the mirror, I see though the window to the outside, fiercely bright, demanding a contrast between its harsh whiteness at 40 below zero, and me stripped to the waist to wash, my warmth protected only by a window.

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And it’s familiar. And I’m at The South Blooming Pole. Tomorrow I will be able to breathe, and my work can begin.


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Prepared by Tony Hansen, Garry Rose and Paul Babushkin.  Last edited 6 Feb. 1998