And So It Begins

Apparently, Antarctica heard my plea. Either that or Mother Nature didn’t get the memo about my extra day off.

Wednesdays are my usual day off, and, coincidentally (I hope), are the worst days weather-wise of the week. All of our Condition Two days since my arrival have been on a Wednesday. So I was curious to see what would happen today, a Thursday, and a sneaky extra day off. Everyone in my department got an extra day off this week as a reward for all our hard work during WinFly. At least that’s what our supervisor said. I think they just wanted us to have a break, a morale booster, because we all know what’s coming next.

More on that in a moment.

But first: the weather today, when Antarctica apparently thought I’d be at work, as usual on a Thursday… Ha! Brilliant blue sky and bright sun. I spent two hours walking outside, most of it without wearing a hood and none of it requiring goggles. As the sun came up over the ridge, it got even warmer. Okay, it was still well below freezing, but for the first time I really felt spring was in the air. There was little wind and no fog or snow, two frequent visitors the past week.

Look Ma, no hood!! We don't need no stinkin' hood when it's 3 degrees Fahrenheit! That's right, ABOVE ZERO!

(Regarding my outfit in the photo above, those of you who are alarmed by the pink flower pinned to my hat need not worry that I have undergone some kind of dramatic personality overhaul. When packing for here, I thought: what will I not see? Domestic animals. Vegetation. Colors. That’s why I tried to bring colorful shirts, bright flowers and my fake fur hat, purchased for five pounds in London ages ago, which kinda reminds me of a dog. As for the less than charming background, hey, it’s not easy to take a self-portrait with gloved fingers… I was trying to capture the Royal Society Mountains on the horizon, not the disused nuclear reactor that they’re slowly demolishing.)

September is actually the most unsettled month here weather-wise because of the arrival of warmer air, which brings storms and fog and enough moisture for serious snowfall (Antarctica is a desert, after all, so it doesn’t snow here nearly as much as, say, Wisconsin).

It’s light now when I go to the gym around 4:30 am, and it stays light until well into the evening hours (how late? I don’t know because whenever the last of the light does finally fade from the sky it’s way past my bedtime). The chances of seeing winter’s auroras and nacreous clouds have ended for the year. Black volcanic rock is already starting to peek through the snow on the trails. As the sun hits the snow and it’s getting warm enough to melt it, at least for a few hours each day, sheets of ice are starting to form.

WinFly is over.

I am so glad I got to be here for WinFly, for so many reasons: seeing the auroras, however faint, and those gobsmackingly gorgeous nacreous clouds, which occur only in winter. It was fascinating to see how the light changed, how quickly we went from virtual round-the-clock darkness to hours of twilight to the current state of near-daylight most of the day.

On a more practical note, it was great to get settled into my job and room and daily routine before the onslaught.

Because the onslaught is coming.

Work on the Mainbody runway continues... note the goldfish-like dirigible on the left of the photo

As I type this, we are waiting for the first flight, the first contact with the outside world, in more than a month. It will be the first flight of Mainbody, the summer season. It will bring, hopefully, flat mail (packages start arriving next week) and fresh fruits and vegetables (ohpleaseohpleaseohplease) and… people. More than a hundred people. And once Mainbody is underway, the flights will keep coming.

In a week or so (depending on plane-friendly weather) the station population will more than double to more than a thousand people. My roommate and I already know we’re getting at least one more person, maybe two, in our room on the first flight in. It’s going to be interesting to see how it changes everything, from shower availability to Internet speed to scoring a decent seat at the Science Sunday lecture. Everyone who’s been through it describes Mainbody, especially the initial ramp-up, as chaos and madness and craziness. We’ll see. I figure I’m here, where I want to be, doing something I enjoy with a living situation that is more tolerable than I’d feared, and on my doorstep is a continent of endless, surreal beauty. And the weather will be getting more steady, and warmer, and brighter, so I’ll be able to get out more whether or not it’s my day off.

Alright, Mainbody. I’m ready. Bring it.

The sun rising over Hut Point Ridge at about 10 am, though it's already been light for six hours.

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One thought on “And So It Begins

  1. Hey Gemma… it’s been a long time. Laura pointed me to your blog. What an amazing adventure, but you would never catch me dead there… I am all about flip flop weather these days. Life in Southern Africa, Zimbabwe to be exact, is good. Drop me a line and check out my blog.
    Cheers, Shannon

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