“You wait. Everyone has an Antarctic.” —Thomas Pynchon, V
Welcome to “Down and Out,” a new blog (my first) being written from the down, down, down and out-est part of the world: Antarctica. It is true that I am here at the United States’ McMurdo Station, working a contract in communications for the polar summer’s science season. My current job has me chatting each day on HF radios, Iridium phones, and VHF repeaters to scientists working in remote field camps. The point of this activity is a.) to make sure that they’re still alive out there and b.) to get them the resources they need to conduct cutting-edge polar science—stuff like determining why the fish around here don’t die in really cold water, why the ice shelves are melting (they are, by the way), and why the world’s weather does what it does.
McMurdo Station, the largest station for scientific research and exploration in Antarctica, is a rowdy and crowded population of about eleven hundred people right now. The sun swirls around the sky and never sets. Outside, it is currently twenty-eight Fahrenheit, and the skate skiing conditions are most-excellent.
My first nine-month stint at McMurdo in 2003-04 involved physical labor in the outdoors. I stayed that winter and worked as an assistant in a mechanic’s shop for heavy equipment. The sun set for four months, and it was too cold outside to breathe deep breaths. Last year, I returned for six months in this communications job, and now I’m back for another five, making December 2006 my eighteenth month at McMurdo. Next week, I will begin working on the night shift, listening to crackling radios while I read, ears tuned for any distress calls from the field.
For the next ten weeks, at least, I will continue to live and work and write dispatches from this wacky place that I love. By the time that I leave in late February, you may be sick of the Ice—as we call it here—but I promise more tales from: The South Pacific. The roads of the western United States. The French Alps.
Literature: George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London