I don’t have any photos for this entry. Actually I have 8 gazillion photos for this entry, but I am in my snug dorm room and they are stashed on hard drives in our lab or still waiting on the SD cards in the cameras in same lab because we brought the bags inside in the cold and one does not open the bags immediately lest everything fog up and one’s camera has to deal with a very bad thing called condensation.
(Later: added a few photos; above, Artists on the Ice Pier)
This will be a miscellaneous entry before I get to the next Big Thing, which was our helo trip to the McMurdo Dry Valleys (and yeah I cried again on the helicopter because of the absolutely insane beauty of this place, and valleys, a place I had fantasized about seeing and thought, no–so few people get to go there I will never–but it happened). What was this planet like before we crawled all over it and built big belching things and sucked rock oil out of its guts and dug giant scars out of its flesh to run the big belching things and slaughtered so many of its beasts to maintain our insatiable selves? Depends on where and when you ask that question. I am torn here because the human culture of McMurdo and its satellites is so fascinating, and the people so good, so full of life, so wonderfully strange, and all humans are culpable in the brutal beating of our earth, and yet Antarctica could get along just fine without us, thank you. We really don’t matter here, and that somehow makes the human bonds matter even more here. But one is daily humbled by the non-human scale of things, by the clear pure air (my god, the air here, it is cold but I want to eat great gulpfuls of it), by the play of light on the mountains and the movements of the ice. A big chunk of the Ross Ice Shelf apparently broke off a couple of days ago and opened up a 3-mile gash. I’m not sure if this qualifies as what Dr. Ainley told us were “polynyas,” a word of Russian origin that refers to openings in the sea ice that penguins prefer as a habitat. But my point here is the scale. Thunk, just like that a 3-mile gap opens up.
Back to the title: the Evolution. The Evolution is when the resupply ship, followed by the fuel ship, comes, its way broken by the Polar Star. The resupply ship been anchored at the ice pier for several days now, and the Evolution is the process of off-loading a year’s worth of supplies for McMurdo as well as Pole and some special goodies like new vehicles and scientific gizmos (everything here is in a way a scientific gizmo). The Evolution includes the re-loading of the ship, this year the Ocean Giant, with McMurdo’s trash and scientific stuff–specimens and the like–for shipping back to the US. During the Evolution special rules obtain. Overnight lots of bright orange net fences went up and pedestrians and “taxis” are not allowed in those, and this is because heavy equipment is moving lets of containers in and out, 24/7. Town is dry for a spell: the bars are closed and the store stops selling alcohol. Everyone attends one of 2 Evolution safety briefings before it all happens. We must all be On Our Toes. Now, you think you would notice a giant forklift bearing forth a giant shipping container coming down your street when you were trying to cross, but when there is so much of it and the wind is whipping and you are wearing a hat covered by a hood and dark glasses and the sun is trained right in your face, and you are in a hurry to get across to your lab or to dinner, well…. Ergo the orange nets. And we all Evolve.
I can look out my window and see the ship. 2 hills run down to it (and these roads are absolutely closed to pedestrians during Evolution). Flatbed trucks go up and down all day, ferrying stuff in and out. The trucks have names. Our favorite is “Shag Nasty.” We first heard it on our radio which we got to listen and talk to the Tower of Power (command central for the Evolution) so that we could be taken (never walk, not allowed) down the road to the wharf and shoot video of the off and on-loading and one special scene with the boss of the whole process. Two times, including yesterday, we have been permitted to walk over the bridge from the wharf to the pier and film. On radio and at Tower, we are known as “Artists.” A radio dialogue goes like this: “Tower, Tower, this is Artists.” “Go ahead Artists.” “Request permission to cross the bridge.” “Go ahead Artists.” (We skedaddle, two puffy red jacketed hard-hatted ants laden with photographic gear). On our last bridge crossing it was “Go ahead Artists, we are stopping traffic for you.” When does that ever happen anywhere else? Stopping traffic for the artists. We did our best not to get in the way of anything or be annoying, and I think we must have succeeded.
Yesterday we celebrated what I hope is our last shoot down at the wharf. It’s interesting to watch, and the people are lovely, and there is a warming hut supplied with all kind of hot beverages and snacks (and even a barbecue where one day, bizarrely, a worker was standing there flipping bratwurst like we were having a backyard party). But it’s cold down there and things happen very slowly of necessity–there are very heavy and very dangerous doings involved in loading and unloading via the ships’ 3 cranes–and I’ve had enough of that scene for now.
What really exhausted me down there was the wait for Delta Liz. The Deltas are personnel transport vehicles with the biggest darn tires I have ever seen. I’ll add a photo later. McMurdo has an aging fleet of these, and Ocean Giant was bringing a brand new one, a source of much excitement particularly among the “fuelies.” Ponting’s film includes footage of the offloading of the Terra nova including a shot of a pony being craned out and onto the ice, and we wanted the analogous shot of Delta Liz.
Ponting’s 90° South on YouTube. If I’ve done this right it should be cued to the scene of the ship offloading. If not, it starts at about 20:43:
And yes, lest we glamorize Terra Nova overly, they did name their cat that. There are other things that are a bit hard to take in this film, but if you watch it all (and we screened it in the McMurdo galley the other night) you won’t need me to point them out. Those frisky cute rolling ponies? Eventually worked to death and shot.
Katy kept track of when the Delta was due to be unloaded (she knows everyone and knows how to access information–she’s just a darn miracle) so we knew that it would be about 4 PM a couple of days ago. With her help we got our radio and introductions to the Tower of Power and permission to stand where we needed to stand and got our ride down there at 2 PM so we’d be sure to be set up in time (it takes a lot longer to do anything down here). And stand, and stand, and stand, and stand. Delta Liz could not be craned out because while it was OK to have a slight angle that meant banging a container a bit into another on the way out, banging the Delta into something would not do. So more things had to be taken out first. More cans, more tanks of helium, more cans, more tanks, and then there was a mandatory meal break and then a shift change, and more standing and standing, and even Liz for whom the Delta was named went back up to camp because this was clearly going to take a very long time.
The other (and “real”) film crew gave up (more about them later) and somewhere in there Vince and I went back up to camp and he had a nap while I stared into space in our lab for an hour, and finally around 3 AM I was sweeping the warming hut to stay awake and suddenly we needed to vault out and into position because out she was coming. So when the sun was in exactly the wrong position Delta Liz was plucked by a crane from the bowels of the ship, set down on the ice pier, and driven off proudly by the fuels manager. And we got our shot–such as it was. My camera froze up, and I was working with a fixed lens that fell out of focus when we moved, and the light moved at just the right moment to make my shot crap, but Vince’s is much better.
Delta Liz at last!
Through all of this we are ourselves evolving. The staccato rhythms of camp life feel more familiar. Our camera settings are settling down. We’ve gotten enough good footage to be confident we can get more and get this project on its legs when we get back. Our roommates have left, and even though I quite liked mine, her hours were a poor mesh with mine and I am enjoying having control over the window now (which she kept tightly covered all the time, so it felt like living in a cave). I fished an electric kettle out of Skua and can now have a cuppa in my jammies in the morning while looking out over the sound to the mountains (and it looks different by the hour). This means also time to reflect, alone time to think and write, and I seem to need that almost as much as I need to breathe. I’ve evolved that into my days, somehow–though not all of them, and that’s probably good for me. Antarctica will never feel like “home,” but our relationship with it is evolving.
Next up: Dry Valleys