Monthly Archives: February 2011

Landscape: Open Water at McMurdo Sound

Two nights ago, I sheltered myself from the wind at Robert Falcon Scott’s historic Discovery Expedition hut and looked out on open water at McMurdo Sound.

Scott’s hut remains here on Ross Island, Antarctica tucked on the inside of Hut Point Peninsula (named, of course, after Scott’s hut). A frozen seal carcass remains outside the front door, and rations are still stocked on the shelves inside.

I stepped out of the hut’s shelter and walked to the top of the peninsula to see something very rare here: water, in its liquid form.

Ross Island is normally surrounded by sea ice that webs it to the coast of Antarctica, but an icebreaking vessel arrived here a few weeks ago to break a channel through the ice so that McMurdo Station could receive an annual cargo re-supply vessel. Sometimes the channel freezes over as soon as the cargo vessel departs, but high winds blew ice out of the channel and broke it wide-open.

Gray skies over McMurdo Sound gave the scene and eerily calm feel, and turquoise ice pools scattered around made the place seem more otherworldly than usual.

Science research vessel Nathanial B. Palmer is tethered to the ice pier, but as soon as it departs, no ships will dock here until next January.

In the meantime, a population of 150 people will winter-over at McMurdo station. They’ll watch this open water freeze solid within the next few weeks. And then they’ll watch long sunsets splash wild colors across the sky, followed by four months of darkness and a night sky full of stars.

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Life: Willy Field Road

You never know who (or what) you’re going to run into on Willy Field Road. This road in Antarctica connects Ross Island to a scientific balloon launching facility, a cut-off road for the late-summer season Pegasus airfield, and a backup airfield called Willy Field. Willy Field Road is long and flat and white: perfect for Nordic skiing…and for other wide-open adventures. One of my pals down here, the mountain-man Brian Hasebe, recently got his kite skiing gear out for a few turns. The wind is a powerful force in Antarctica, so harnessing it while on skis can be a wild ride. But, check out this You Tube video I took as he skied towards me and a friend. Nice work:

I haven’t yet learned how to kite ski and instead stick to the more grounded version of skiing in the Antarctic, choosing instead to glide along on skate- or good old-fashioned classic Nordic skis.

My roommate (pictured above) is a fan of this activity as well, so it’s fun to ride a bike or walk the mile and a half over the hill from McMurdo to get out for some afternoon fun in the summer sun.

Stopping for a break along the way is nice, especially if it’s windy. There’s a shelter set up midway out to Willy Field, and even though it doesn’t have a heater, sun comes in through the windows and keeps the inside toasty warm. A survival bag is also cached inside of the hut, complete with sleeping kit, stoves, fuel, and a book for reading in the event of an emergency bivouac.

Skiing on Willy Field Road isn’t like bombing first tracks through a foot of fresh powder. It’s not like picking a tight line through a steep section of lodgepole pines. But it’s what we’ve got, and we make it fun.

Literature: Julie Burstein’s SPARK

Title: Spark: How Creativity Works // Author: Julie Burstein // Publisher: HarperCollins // Pub. Date: February 2011 // 272 p.

I’m excitedly reading the upcoming book Spark: How Creativity Works, by radio reporter Julie Burstein. Burstein created Studio 360, public radio’s premier guide to contemporary culture, and Spark is much like this radio program—but in book form. Spark explores the paths of people who have shaped contemporary writing, painting, music, performance, and other artistic pursuits. It’s like taking a journey into the minds of the twenty-first century’s most influential and creative thinkers, including the likes of Mira Nair, Richard Ford, Rosanne Cash, and Yo-Yo Ma. Burstein says in the book’s introduction that when she created Studio 360, she wanted to find answers to questions such as “What do we look to art for, in the twenty-first century? What are these artists revealing to us, and why are we compelled to look and listen?” Studio 360, with its tag “where art and real life collide,” was an immediate hit, and for Spark, Burstein chose stories from artists who tell us something about that “oscillation between art and life.” This book is as fascinating as the radio program from which it was born, and I suspect that it, too, will be loved and praised in similar fashion.

Spark is a must-read for: artists and poets and their parents and friends, museum goers, film buffs, biography lovers, musicians and music collectors, the artsy-craftsy crowd.

Photo credit: HarperCollins

News: The New York Times LOVES Antarctica

“Antarctica is relentless; you can’t let your guard down.”
–Jill Mikucki

The New York Times loves Antarctica…and so do I. It’s hard not to fall in love with a place when you’re surrounded by scenes such as these:

Over the weekend, NYT published an article about the McMurdo Ice Marathon, a super cool (no pun intended) event–as you can see below from Down and Out’s previous two posts.

Click here to read the New York Times article, “A Marathon on Ice.”

Recently, The New York Times also published an article about upcoming expeditions being planned to celebrate Robert Falcon Scott’s 1911 historic…and fatal…trek to the South Pole:

Click here to read this article, “Tourists Mimic Polar Pioneers, Except with Planes and Blogs.”

And a few weeks ago, The New York Times also published an article about scientist Jill Mikucki, who was in Antarctica for the holidays conducting research in the Dry Valleys. She was my roommate in McMurdo for a week before going out to the field.

Click here to read the New York Times article, “Fiji? Bermuda? She’ll Take Antarctica.”

Read…and enjoy. It always feels good when someone gives props to a place you love.