Tuesday, November 15, 2011

SKUA: Antarctica's Permanent Free Bin

In spite of the very limited number of animals down here on the ice, Antarctica does have its very own obnoxious pest: the skua. Skuas look a lot like brownish seagulls, and they brazenly attempt to steal anything and everything that seems even in the slightest bit edible. They've started to show up in earnest the past few weeks as the temperatures have been warming (it's been hitting the mid 20's, and is even starting to creep up into the 30's, which feels INSANELY warm to me. I never really posted about some of the colder days we've seen on station, but I have been outside in -40, just to give you an idea of the weird things that have started to seem normal to me), and they hang out near the loading dock of the galley quite a bit. They have a scavenging technique that involves using a "bait skua" that sits right in front of you and lets you get within a few feet of it, distracting you while its compatriots sneak up behind and to attack your food and shiny things. Fascinatingly wily, eh?

Someone made this delightful ceramic skua; he lives in the library. I read next to him a lot. 
Skuas are pretty cool animals, but there's a second and far superior sort of Skua down here. I shall try to explain to you, but it's hard to know where to start. Those of you who know me well will probably quickly understand why I find this to be, hands down, one of the most fascinating and overwhelming sources of creative fodder I have ever encountered. McMurdo basically has an entire building that functions as a permanent free bin. People are often abandoning things they don't want to lug back to the mainland, and no one really knows what to bring to Antarctica, so it's kept well stocked with... just... everything you could ever possibly hope to find. I draw very little distinction between the roles of artist and sociologist, so I've made it a part of my normal routine to stop by Skua every few days to document and ponder some of the best finds. 

Here's a picture to give you a general idea. This really doesn't do the randomness of this place any justice. There is SO MUCH treasure to be found in here.... 

And here's a comic, because I can't seem to stop drawing them. Eventually I'll learn to make them a little smaller so they'll scan better...

In other news, I continue to be inhumanly busy. I would say that I have about my usual half dozenish creative projects going, but I've never had to contend with a 60 hour workweek before. This is the first time in my life that I'm having to face up to the fact that even my ninja-like time management skills cannot make it possible for me to do everything I want to do down here. So I've picked my battles, and have given up some things that are usually pretty dear to me-- namely sleep (well, that's not really true: sleep has never been high on my list of priorities), bourbon, exercise and anything resembling a normal social life. 

That's how damn inspiring I find this place.

I have decided that, for my time here, I'm going to try to live as though I am here through the Antarctic Artists and Writers Program instead of being here as a cook. I will try to pretend I'm not at work in the kitchen 6 days a week, and that it is instead my job to draw and write and listen and paint 60 hours a week, and I will sleep in March. It will be just like one very, very long day. Which, really, is what this whole year has felt like.

I made another comic that kind of touches on the wonderful insanity of this pace:

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