Settling In

Yesterday was my first day off since arriving back at McMurdo. I spent much of the morning going through the pile of stuff my friend Natalie (one of my roommates from my summer season) left me–more than eight boxes of clothing, fabric scraps, random foodstuffs and more health and beauty aids than an aisle at Walgreens.

In the afternoon, with the sun shining, as soon as I got out of a mandatory meeting, I set off for Hut Point.

Hut Point Ridge, a view familiar to anyone following my blog the past year or so... but look at all that open water!

And the Antarctic Welcoming Committee was ready for me.

Heeeeere, skuaskuaskuaskua!

I’ve never seen so many skua in one place, more than a dozen of the birds, which are usually solitary. There were four to six of them divebombing me at any given moment for most of my walk.

Skuapalooza. I like the composition of this photo, even if it was totally accidental.

Given that I had no food on me–skua are smart birds, and recognize not only food but our food containers–I can only assume that they’re getting ready to fly north for the winter and were a bit desperate for any scraps to tide them over on the long journey.

Feelin' lucky, punk?

Or maybe they just missed me.

I'd like to note that none of these photos were taken with a zoom. Yeah. We can't harass the wildlife, but apparently we're fair game.

Nah.

Vince Cross at Hut Point. The last time I had this view, everything in front of me was ice. Mt. Discovery on the horizon.

It’s too late in the season for penguins, by the way, though I’m told this was a lousy year to spot them. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was an excellent year to spot Orcas in the Sound. I got to see a couple last night from quite a long way off–nothing worth even attempting a photo, but still exciting to see animals in the wild.

The view north by northwest, over Ross Sea, and a fading summer sun.

While being harassed by skua was the highlight of my day, just getting back out to Hut Point was a close second. I wish I could share with you the stillness, the enormity of the landscape, the clarity of the air. There are no words to do it justice, and photos convey only a fraction of the visceral power of this place.

Of course, there are plenty of words to describe my current living arrangements. Wordsmith that I fancy myself to be, I think “poopy” sums it up.

My current room. Well, at least I'm not paying rent.

It could be worse, of course. I could have a roommate (I don’t), this could be my room for the rest of the season (it’s not), and so on. But with the summer season extended by a couple weeks due to delays in the annual vessel offload, there are too many people on station still, including people living in the room I requested for winter.

Stuff I brought, stuff I stored, stuff I inherited... for those of you who know how much I dislike clutter and chaos, I know you feel my pain. There is just nowhere to put it all without fully moving in, something I don't want to do since I'll be changing rooms in the next week.

So, until they leave (just a few more days), I’m stuck on the third floor of 209 with all the stuff I brought, all the stuff I left in storage and all the stuff Natalie skua’ed for me.

This year's vessel, the Greenwave, a couple days before it left. Sure, I could tell you all about how this year they didn't build an ice pier (essentially a giant ice cube) and instead the Greenwave brought its own fancy-schmancy pier and fold-up tug to assemble it, but I'd rather point out how gorgeous the Royal Societies, across McMurdo Sound, look in the light. Taken from the third floor lounge of my current dorm.

I expect the next couple weeks will be a busy time getting rid of the summer people–finally–and transitioning to winter. The first sunset since October was last week and already it’s a bit dim when I get up to go to work at 3:30 in the morning. We’re losing light at a rate of about 20 minutes a day.

Winter is coming. Can’t wait.

McMurdo Station from Hut Point, 28 February 2012

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