Sunday, June 18, 2017

Midwinter at the South Pole

First, let me apologize for my lack of posts lately. Over the past couple of weeks, I have tried a few times to put together a new blog post.  Unfortunately, I have had a bit of writers block. The truth is life here on station has mostly become rather routine.  There are a few things that happen here or there to stir things up, but for the most part, we live our lives just like we would back home. We get up. We do whatever work we have to do for the day, and then we find some form of entertainment to keep us occupied for the rest of the time. It is pretty normal, really, aside from the fact that there are only 46 of us living and working together in one of the most remote and isolated environments in the world, with some of the most spectacular views of the night sky I have ever seen... but still... It's totally normal.

That being said, every so often, there is a big event that breaks the monotony.  In fact, We just celebrated a major milestone. This last weekend, we celebrated Midwinter. I suppose it is not that unique of an event in some senses. I am sure there are a handful of people and places that celebrate this time of year, but here we treat it like a proper holiday. We have a special dinner where almost everyone on station helps out with the meal and preparation.  We come together to party and socialize and just have a good time. It also marks the last major event before sunrise.  We are now at the halfway point of our long dark winter.  In a few months, the sun will start to rise again, and we will start preparing for our trips home, wherever that will be.  Many of us are planning on traveling a bit before we go back to whatever could be considered our normal lives. It is an exciting time, but it also means that our time together will be coming to an end soon. We will be leaving this amazing place that has been a home to us for the past several months and moving on to the next part of our lives. We will be re-entering a world that has happily gone on without us for some time. We will be strangers trying to fit back into an old mold we long abandoned, or at least it feels that way. Soon, the night will move to dawn and then full day light, and we will no longer see the auroras and the stars that have often inspired us.  Leaving this place will be a major change.  To some it will be more welcome than others, but I think for most of us it will be at least a little bittersweet.

This weekend for Midwinter, we had a ton going on. It started on Saturday with Martin and I doing our dishpit duty and then was followed by our weekly house mouse responsibilities where we had to clean up in the gym.  After that we had an all hands meeting where everyone on station came together to take a Midwinter group photo. Almost all of the stations in Antarctica take one of these pictures and pass them around to each other for a Midwinter celebration greeting.  We did ours in the gym and had a bit of a theme.  We almost all either dressed up in our work outfits or had something to represent the work we do down here.  A few people wore some sports memorabilia or something else to represent what is important to them. Martin and I wore our IceCube hats and stood next to one of our display DOMs. It turned out to be a pretty good picture.  Later in the evening, there was a traditional viewing of The Shining.  Sadly, I missed this because my sleep schedule is all sorts of messed up.  I had to stay up for something like 21 hours just to make it to the group picture, so I slept through The Shining. The next day was also quite busy.  I woke early, since I went to bed so early, and then had a breakfast of leftovers followed by a shower. As I have said, we only get two showers a week, so this was a treat.  Later we had our Midwinter brunch. Then there was an epic facial hair contest where many great beards and mustaches were presented.  Unfortunately , I didn't win, but I came very close.  After that, I volunteered to spend more time in the dishpit while Martin volunteered to help clean up and organize for the dinner.

After my time in the dishpit, I decided to check outside to see what was happening with the auroras.  The past couple of weeks the moon has been up, so it has been harder to see the auroras, but now that the moon has set they have been much more noticeable. In fact,the auroras yesterday were too bright to pass up! So, I grabbed my camera and headed outside where it was roughly -98F with a wind chill of -140F, and got some amazing pictures... as quickly as I possibly could so I didn't have to stay too long out in the cold! Then a couple hours later, dinner started with socializing, cocktails, and appetizers.  A few of the guys got together and made us some old fashioneds with the only bitters that happened to be on station.  They turned out great!  It so happened that while we were socializing before dinner, the temperature finally dropped ever so briefly below -100F for the first time this season.  Everyone was watching the monitors when it happened and most were fairly excited. Finally, we had an amazing dinner that was put together by our amazing galley staff. After all that, there was a murder mystery game that many people played, but I was again so tired and full, I went to my room and passed out.

Overall, the past couple of days have been a ton of fun. Sadly, I didn't get the chance to participate in every activity, but I did get involved enough to have a really good time.  Not to mention, I got some decent aurora pictures.  I am still really enjoying my time down here, and I am looking forward to my last few months here.

Below, I have selected a few pictures from the past couple of days. For more pictures, check out the full album in links below.

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