Landscape: the big picture

First things first: acknowledgement and reverence go to Matt (Chamonix, France), Kevin (Deleware) and Ken (Colorado) for collectively answering the last post’s literary trivia question. Correct! George Orwell’s real name was Eric Arthur Blair. Check out their comments…and thank you. Now, for the post:

“Great God! This is an awful place…”     -Robert Falcon Scott (1912)

Snowmobile ViewOn Wednesday afternoon I took a “morale job” moving snowmobiles from their location near McMurdo Station to a mid-summer parking strip further south on the ice shelf. Besides giving me the chance to zip around outside, the trip offered a good opportunity for reflection on the Antarctic landscape—the big picture, that is.

Ten of us met after lunch by the row of snowmobiles and set off into the never-ending whiteness on a groomed snow road, the bamboo-staked flags marking our route snapping horizontally in the wind. We left the confines of our sheetmetal workcenters and crowded dorms behind us at McMurdo and cruised out into what Antarctica mostly is—an infinitely unfolding landscape, frozen and white.

Snapping flags

The driest, windiest, and coldest continent, Antarctica is 98% snow and ice and only 2% rock and dirt. McMurdo Station, where I live and work, sits on Ross Island—a mound of volcanic rock that sticks out on this otherwise pristine continent like a little black smudge. Ross Island is 800 miles from the South Pole (where the U.S. also maintains a station), and 2,400 miles from Christchurch, New Zealand, which is where I drank my last good latte before arriving here during the first week in October.

Ross Island, a smudge

Before parking the snowmobiles in their new location, we inspected the site of the Pegasus aircraft wreckage, which still remains exposed since its crash in 1970. The plane was a C-121 Super Constellation, and none of its passengers died when it went down near what is now called Pegasus Field—McMurdo’s late-summer ice runway. After drinking some hot cocoa and standing around in the wind, we bundled up and buzzed back to Ross Island.

PegasusThis entry has done little to dispel the notion that Antarctica is nothing more than a huge chunk of ice at the bottom of the world. And it is 98% just that, so I’m not trying to change anyone’s opinion of the place—just yet. All you need to know for now is that at McMurdo Station, there is much, much more to the story…


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