Monday, January 30, 2012

The ice shelf is indeed the ocean, and the joys of sleeping in a snow trench

 I took this picture as I was taking out the trash after a night of bartending. Still stops me in my tracks every time. You can see open water on the right side of the picture, compliments of the Russian icebreaker that's been milling about creating a path for the fuel tanker and resupply vessel. 
 This little guy (ok, he's really not that little, but the mountains make everything seem really small) has been doing circles for the past week or so breaking up the sea ice. While I've always known that I live on an island, there's an entirely different level of impact that occurs when you actually see a boat come in and turn your ice shelf into actual ocean.

It's been a busy past few weeks on my end. My time down here on the ice is coming to an end, and I've only got 16 days left. This is starting to slowly sink in, but I haven't had time to fully mull it over yet, and I probably won't be able to think about it until just before I leave because I'm deep in the throes of organizing things for the Under the Bed Gallery: Outside Notions of Antarctica show. The opening will be happening on Friday, February 9th from 7:30-10:30pm; feel free to hitch a ride on a C130 and come on down!

A huge thank you to everyone who sent me art: I received far too much to actually fit under my bed, which is a great problem to have. I've come up with a solution that I think will be entertaining for everyone, but more on that later...

A few weeks ago I got to go to Snow Survival School, AKA Happy Camper, AKA "that part in Encounters at the End of the World where everyone puts buckets on their heads." We learned how to make a quarry and use snow blocks to build wind walls, how to dig angled pits to anchor our tent stakes in the snow, and how to construct snow trenches. 

Building our camp kitchen. 

 Tents for those folks who weren't really excited about spending a few extra hours digging a big hole to sleep in. 

Speaking of tents, I'm going to digress for a minute to share with you some of my opinions about outdoor gear. My friend Matt Romero (who also keeps a blog and is better than I am about posting lots of pictures) has hiked the PCT a few times, and generally has some pretty strong opinions about ultralight backpacking. Matt is one of my closest friends down here, and a while back we had a serious test of our friendship because we ended up discussing gear. It turns out we disagree. Strongly. 

Matt gave a clinic on ultralight gear a few weeks ago, and he invited me to offer my opinions as a counterpoint to his talk. This was when I was still putting all my drawing time towards my travelogue, but ultralight disciples are such a pet peeve of mine that I decided I would somehow find time to contribute something. I drew these at the bar after perhaps a few too many whiskey gingers, so they're... uh... maybe a little harsh in their condemnation. But I stand behind the sentiments. 

Ok, back to Happy Camper: I opted to dig a snow trench. My room at McMurdo has four people in it, and there is just enough room for our beds. You can't actually walk from one end of the room to the other if any of our wardrobe doors are open, and one of my roommates is a Midrat (works night shift), so there is always someone asleep such that you can't turn the lights on. It's been fine, because I'm almost never in my room, but at times it does get old having my room be a tiny enclosed space that I must always navigate via headlamp. My trench was the first time I'd had any sort of space that was truly my own, and I relished the privacy of it. I pretended that I was Badger from The Wind in the Willows, and I really didn't want to come out. 

Taking a digging break. 

The view from inside before I put my roof (a sled balanced on two bamboo poles, covered in snow bricks) on. It was probably about 9pm when I took this picture. So many months of full sunlight... My circadian rhythms are all shot. Good thing there's no time to sleep anyways!

The next day we got to learn how to operate an old Vietnam era field radio. 

Yay for getting to actually play outside! I'm going to wrap up this post for now, but I'll give you a sneak peek of the topic I'll be sharing in my next post: 

This is the fuel tanker than just showed up last week. It's bringing us six million gallons of fuel, and they let me take a tour.... 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Travelogue, snow mobiling, radio show

Ok, dear readers-- as promised, my travelogue is out of the way, and I now can get back to keeping you at least somewhat abreast of life down here in the very deep South. Here are a few of the images from my travelogue, offered mostly so you can see that I do actually have a decent justification for not posting lately:

All told, I made about 20 illustrations, and it made me realize that I want to make more. Like.... maybe a hundred more. I might be working on this one for a while.

But back to the matter at hand. Antarctica! I figure it's probably due time for a bit of a geography lesson. This place is disorienting for a number of reasons. The most obvious is the inherent ridiculousness of getting to physically be on this continent, but McMurdo is also extremely confusing in terms of its orientation with the rest of Antarctica. So here is Antarctica. You can see McMurdo written in red near the bottom:

And here is the where I live. McMurdo is located on Ross Island, a 950 square mile island formed by four volcanoes:
Living on an island is very confusing, because much of the "land" that I can see (and sometimes ride snowmobiles over!) is, in fact, frozen ocean, and when I look off at distant volcanoes, I am actually looking AWAY from the actual land mass of the continent.

Ross Island is effectively connected to the rest of the continent by means of a permanent ice sheet, but by technical definition, McMurdo is not actually located on the Antarctic continent. This amuses me to no end, because it means that all the people who have come down here simply to check Antarctica off their list of traveling to all seven continents are not actually accomplishing their goal.

I have to say that I have been somewhat surprised by how many people down here seem to be in it just to say that they've been, rather than to actually engage with this place. Going into this, I had this expectation that the people who come down to work in Antarctica would all be inquisitive adventurers, drawn by the romance of the frozen frontier and the allure of a landscape that is one of the last true bastions of wildness. Documentaries like Encounters at the End of the World perpetuate this notion, and it's been a bit disillusioning to instead discover that most people come down here and do everything in their power to distract themselves from thinking about where they are.

I worry sometimes that I'm becoming a terrible elitist, because I so often find myself wandering around looking at other people and wondering, "You're here, but what are you getting out of it?"

Anyways, back to my initial discussion of Antarctic geography. I drew a comic to provide a basic overview of Antarctica and McMurdo's location on the continent:

You know what I've found to be the best method for getting a handle on the geography down here? Riding a snowmobile across the ice shelf, because then you don't care in the slightest which cardinal direction you're facing. The powers that be occasionally issue morale trips, which, because nothing down here can be called by a normal descriptive title, are called Boondoggles. A while back I got to participate in a Boondoggle called Room With a View, which involves snowmobiling across the frozen Ross Sea.

We started off by piling into a Pisten Bully, one of the many silly looking vehicles down here. Check out the fantastic 80's-fabulous font and color choice on the vehicle name. We keep it classy in Antarctica. Wish I'd taken a picture of the interior seat upholstery...
We then made our way to our faithful steeds. 
 And drove off into the distance. I don't know about everyone else, but I was totally living out some sort of post-apocalyptic desert (because Antarctica is technically a desert, after all) fantasy in my head. 
 We stopped for lunch at the base of Mount Erebus. And because a huge part of the Antarctic experience involves wearing not nearly enough clothes for the climate (you don't need to wear pants if you're only dashing 20 yards between the station's two bars, right?), it seemed like the right thing to do to strip down to bunny boots and underwear and frolick merrily off into the distance. By which I mean the flag line, because we are expressly forbidden to ever cross flags due to the dangers of crevasse fields.
On the way back we worked to flag the route, which was ridiculously fun. We loaded up our snowmobiles with flags, and took turns leapfrogging and driving them into the ground. I appropriately amended my post apocalyptic desert fantasy to include jousting.
 So. Much. Fun. My morale was definitely boosted by the end of the trip. 
I've mentioned at various points that I've been doing a radio show down here, and I figure it's high time I elaborate on this, as it's more or less the highlight of my week.

Every week I pick a theme (a la This American Life), and then spend more time than I have delving through the beautiful chaos of the vinyl room. M first show was songs about home. Yes, it has taken me three months to get around to posting a playlist, but better late than never, right? Hopefully I'll start getting these up more regularly. Themes since then have included science, poor life decisions, sleep, drinking, sundays and more...

Poor Life Decisions: HOME
1. Lou Reed- Talk a Walk on the Wild Side
2. Emerson Lake and Palmer- Show Me the Way to Go Home

16. The Nashville Guitars at Home- The Green Green Grass of Home (can't find it online)
17. Jo and Broadway- Anyplace I Hang My Hat is Home
I couldn't find the version I played, but here's Sammy Davis singing it. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Most amazing video ever

I realize I've been lax about posting of late, and I plan to rectify this after my travelogue on Monday, but for now I wanted to share this RIDICULOUSLY AWESOME VIDEO that some folks down here made about the race to be the first to the South Pole.

For some reason the embed code isn't working, so just follow this link. I promise it's worth it. This video gave me so much renewed creative energy and inspiration for this place, I cannot say enough good things about it.

Also, briefly-- a big thank you to the people who have been sending stuff for Under the Bed. I am delightfully overwhelmed by the number of submissions! But I only have a month left down here, so we're getting to the point where mail will make it down here after I'm gone. So no more mail, please.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Penguins, gingerbread transport vehicles, travelogues and moooorrrreeee

In my last post I jokingly complained about the fact that I basically don't get to see any of the things that one typically associates with Antarctica. The universe was kind enough to listen to my rant, and I FINALLY GOT TO SEE PENGUINS! There they are. Being all penguiny. Yup. Can check that one off the list. 

The last few weeks have been totally crazy, and I haven't found myself with any free time to post. I've been working on a few large art projects that have been taking up all of my seated hand eye coordination time, and I haven't really put my brush pens down long enough to type.

One of the many things that I dearly love about being down here is the opportunity to hear interesting presentations from members of the community. There are science lectures on Wednesday and Sunday nights, and there's an occasional speaker series called "Secret Lives" in which people talk about what they do when they're not on the ice. My favorite series happens every Monday night, when you get to go hear Travelogues. 

As you might expect of the group of people who decide to come work in Antarctica, there are folks down here who have gone on some pretty incredible trips. And every Monday night, you get to hear someone talk about their travels. It's made me realize that there aren't really venues for people to talk about such things. Seattle friends, you had best start brushing off your old photos and journals, because you best believe that when I get back, I'm taking this Antarctic tradition with me, and I'm going to be pestering you about presenting. 

Anyways! My point in talking about this is to tell you that one of the main reasons I haven't been blogging lately is because I am working on a travelogue about my bike trip. I decided to illustrate it and, not surprisingly, I have gone a little bit overboard in the scope of my ambitions... I am having WAY too much fun with this, and am realizing that perhaps the travelogue is only the beginning of this project. I have always wanted to write a graphic novel, and this past year has given me more fodder than I really even know what to do with....

In other art news, submissions have been pouring in for February's Under the Bed show, and I am extremely excited! I've been getting some incredible stuff, like this wonderful letter and its accompanying wonderful art: 

Thus far I have received entries from New York, Maryland, Colorado, California, Washington, Oregon, and Massachusetts. So a big thank you to everyone who helped spread the word, and I'll be posting more about the opening (tentatively slated for February 6th) in the coming weeks.

I've been getting emails lately from people asking what it is I actually DO all day, and what an Antarctic kitchen is like. Cooking in Antarctica is surprisingly like cooking anywhere else. Before coming down here, I expected that I'd be working with only canned and frozen materials, but we in fact get many thousands of pounds of produce shipped in from New Zealand every week. The flights are often delayed because of the weather, but for the most part, I am cooking with a lot more fresh vegetables than you might think. I even get papayas and mangoes down here. Crazy, right?! A friend of mine who is from North Dakota had his first mango here in Antarctica.

I'm going to do a more in depth post about this at some later date, but for now I thought I'd amuse you with some pictures of entirely superfluous things that I have made. The kitchen down here is pretty great in that, so long as you get your work done, you have total free rein to make fun things. I was raised by a father who always encouraged me to play with my food, and a mother who realized she probably couldn't stop me, so it's quite gratifying to now actually get paid to make unnecessarily complicated little food diorama. And apparently my bosses consider my food sculptures to be good for workplace morale, which is hilarious but I'll take it...  

Salmon platter pond scene, although I did make these guys look more like catfish with their onion whiskers and all.

I made an alien landscape of pate beasts for our Christmas meal. The trees are deep fried parsnip curls and grape stems stuck into bricks of cheese. 

And to continue with the food theme of this post, here are pictures of what everyone made for the gingerbread building contest. As you can see, Antarctic vehicles are a popular theme down here.