On Friday, 139 scientists and contract workers departed McMurdo for Christchurch, New Zealand on a C-17, a burly matte-gray plane that can land on ice. Today, the same, and the mass exodus will continue until the last week in February, when the final plane (which I plan to catch) leaves a population of 120 to stay in Antarctica for the winter and work in the dark.
It’s not all depressing, saying good-bye, and so far the resulting gatherings have been a riot. The first of last week’s post-departure socials erupted into a party in our dorm’s common area, complete with spontaneous singing, tuba playing, and guitar jamming late into the night. People signed each other’s ass-cheeks with permanent marker and exchanged email addresses.
In the meantime, the ice-worthy vessels have offloaded enough cargo and fuel (over six million gallons) to keep this place operational for another year, and Sea Shepherd is stalking Japanese whale poachers in the Ross Sea. The temperature is back in the low-twenties, and the open water channel already has a thin layer of ice forming on its surface, sort of like the filmy milk that you sometimes have to skim off the top of your latte.
All of the helicopters have been loaded up into big planes and flown north, and the last of the Twin Otters departed on Saturday. Within the past two weeks, the scientists have vacated their field camps, which means that I’m back at work listening to nothing but radio static, punctuated by the occasional call from South Pole to relay weather observations for the cargo flights still shuttling gear across the continent.
And of course, I’m reading and writing and running around outside to relieve the stress of it all. I got teary-eyed while watching a rock video last night—simply because people were wearing tank tops while outdoors—but also got excited about the prospect of living life elsewhere, hopefully as fully as it gets lived here at McMurdo. Thanks, folks. That’s the news.
Killing Dragons, and other adventures