Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Second Sunday

It is now my second Sunday at the Station which means I've been here 10 days. It seems like a lot longer, but the character of the Station changed dramatically yesterday when we closed for the winter. There are now 47 dedicated souls here that will be here all winter no matter what. The dynamic of the station is now much lower key, people are more friendly with each other, and often the hallways are completely empty of other folks.

I was able to move into my permanent room yesterday which feels like a mansion compared to my first room since it is about 15 square feet larger. That may not seem like much, but it means I don't have to move things to open the door. Pictures coming when I get things put away.

Weather-wise it has been really beautiful with blue skies and low winds of about 8 to 10 knots. Of course the temperature is another matter. It was a balmy (for the Pole) -20F when I arrived and in the past ten days it has dropped to being constantly around -43F. Temperature is not really the hardest part of Pole life for me yet - it's the altitude. The altitude varies with the barometric pressure and right now it is over 10,000 feet. Everything is hard at that altitude, particularly the first week here. I have passed the critical first week danger zone for development of HAPE or HACE, so I am good to go for the entire season. I am acclimating well and can now walk the length of the station or up a flight of stairs without having to stop and rest while gasping for air. I still can't do both yet, but maybe by next Sunday I will be able.

Tonight I participated in a South Pole tradition by watching "The Thing" on the first night of the winter. Unfortunately it was the new version and not the original, but there are some things in life you just have to do if you have the chance, and watching any version of The Thing at the South Pole on the first night of winter is one of them. The other South Pole tradition was yesterday when the last plane left. Several of us went out to bid farewell to it as it buzzed the station on its way to the coast. [link]  This was at 2 am folks, so you know I am a traditionalist.

So far I have been struck by how calm, quiet and relaxed all the Polies are, but winter is just getting started so we will see in a few months. An interesting thing I have noticed is that greetings seem a bit strange to me. Since you may see some people ten or more times in the hallway every day, do you say Hi every time or do you walk past and ignore them? The first time each day is easy, but what about the thirteenth time? I think a lot of people here are having trouble with it. I'm sure it will get worked out over the winter.

Over the next two weeks all us poor 47 Polies will have to close down the station. That means putting out flag lines to the outlying research buildings so no one will get lost when it is dark, blizzardy and 80 below in a few months. We also have to shut down several heated out-buildings that are used only in summer, take down the ice runway flag markers so they don't get buried by snow over the winter, and lots of other things to maintain the station over the winter. I'll keep you informed of how that goes.

I was asked what it is I do here.  I am the Safety person for the station over winter.  Although we have a physician and a small clinic, the nearest real hospital 1,200 miles and six months away, so not getting seriously injured here is very important.  I also do drinking water testing and some environmental work.  In other words, I am the Occupational Safety and Health component of the station staff.


Fern Emma said...

Beautiful sky in that fly-over link. It must be quite intense to watch that transportation link with the rest of the continents buzz over you for the last time for months.
Happy wintering!!

J. Reaves said...

Fern Emma, although there was a slight feeling of "there goes the last link", the far stronger emotion among all the Polies was "at last they're gone". The station was immediately quieter and more family-like than before. It's been two weeks since that plane left and the station is really great with 47 people in it. We work hard because there are so few of us to do the work to maintain the station, but everybody pitches in to help. Even in the middle of the day it is possible to walk down the main hallway and see no one.

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