Never the Same Ice Twice

Best laid plans deform, as ice will do. My bright-&-early flight to Pole was bumped up an hour when the earlier flight (a daily flight attempt to reach WAIS) was once again cancelled. This didn’t actually matter too much as all flights were being simultaneously delayed (“2 hour hold, 2 hour hold”) by today’s high winds and snow pushing through the area, with wind from the South and conditions (Condition 2) that closed the Ice Runway during the night. Through my earplugs and blanket, I actually heard the wind start howling in my sleep, as it picked up speed and sang over the roof of my dormitory, just above my room. A table of fixed wing pilots at early breakfast seemed cautiously hopeful, but most everyone else bets we probably won’t get out to pole. As everywhere, Antarcticans are divided into clans of Optimists and Pessimists.

Consolation prize? A friendly team studying ICEBERGS (next door in Crary Lab) just introduced themselves and their Principle Investigator Douglas MacAyeal personally brewed me a cup of fantastic espresso. Real coffee – wow! He’s got remote sensing devices floating around on icebergs like B-15 right now, watching with excitement as B-15 starts to crack up and turn a point into Cape Adaire, where the ocean current should really get it moving once again. Another of their remote-imaging devices is waiting to deploy in the snow outside our windows at Crary Lab. Several times a day, I feel like I am in a space station on another planet.

My delayed flight was switched to ON. Brennen Brunner from Field Safety Training Program swung by in person to give me a DEEP FIELD/HELO BOARDING PASS FOR ECW GEAR SUBSTITUTIONS (admin voucher to use my Will Steger Mukluks as alternative to the official-issue bunny boots). As he wrote out the voucher, the phone rang and my flight was cancelled once again, sigh: I might get out on a late flight, 3:45 transport. Or not.

News travels fast where all the longitudinal lines start converging. Last night I called a friend on the edge of Lake Superior but I forgot to ask about the weather. He called his father, who sent word by email that I should bring him back a penguin (sorry, WAY too many forms to even consider! grin). “It’s snowing here today” the photographer George Steinmetz sitting at my left told the vulcanologist Phil Kyle in New Mexico, long distance, but being the head vulcanologist Phil already knew the weather conditions on the top of Mt Erebus, as he monitored his equipment readings via the web. If all goes as planned, I’ll go up Erebus to see Phil’s team in action, working at the top of the volcano, in early December! They are doing amazing things in a surreal landscape.

At this point my flight to pole may really be cancelled for the day, but if so I have pencilled in GPS and Snowmobile training sessions instead. Everyone wants to know if-why-how I’m writing poetry about Antarctica. This morning Brennen from Field Safety said quite insightfully: “I bet it would be hard to capture the quirkiness, the anecdotes, figure out how to explain it all in context….”

Pure nuggets of poetry lurk inside every encounter, of course. Brennen also told me he “went to Pole for a few days, but saw everything there was to see” — in one day. Next day? Well, he didn’t know what to do with himself, wandered around aimlessly for a while, ended up spending his precious time at the South Pole station watching a video on spontaneous human combustion…..

Maybe that’s why Antarcticans are not allowed to use lighters/candles/incense inside non-lab buildings?

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