27 August 2010

antarctica: up to day 10

Oh my goodness, so much as happened since I last posted.  Hence the lack of posting.  Lots of ups and lots of downs.  Well, actually not too many downs because I've been refusing to think about anything negative, but once I let my consciousness beyond the walls of the building I'm in, the loneliness is rather suffocating.  Yet at the same time, I'm with all sorts of people everyday, alllllll day.  Sometimes I forget the reality of where I am, and it feels like there was an apocalypse and the only people left are here.  I found out today that I will be having no roommate for the rest of winfly, which means I get the room to myself for the next month.  This is basically unheard of in McMurdo… basically only the highest head honchos get a single room.  Apparently there was a glitch in the system that made it look like there were 3 people in my room… I totally lucked out.  After socializing with people all day every day, it's such a relief to go home to silence.  This evening I finally decorated my room, but it's so dark in there that it's basically impossible to photograph, but it's certainly a lot more cozy now.
Today was my 10th full day here, which is crazy.  It's one of those things where it feels like I've been here for EVER, but at the same I feel like I just got here yesterday and I still have no clue where I am.  
[Atlee getting way too close to the "cake"]
I finally settled in with an awesome group of friends, and had been doing far more than my fair share of laughing, dancing, singing, and enjoying some good old debauchery.  However, just two days ago, all four of my closest friends got moved to the night shift for the next month.  So now I'm feeling friendless and like I'm starting all over again.  It's been difficult lately, but I also know how much fun life will be once mainbody starts in a month.  
We got to take a tour of the waste treatment plant during work, which was hilarious and fascinating.  Currently, they are able to treat all of the waste and put clear, clean water back into the ocean, but once mainbody starts up and the station is at full capacity, they often have to dump raw sewage.  Needless to say, it reeked in there, and taking a tour with 10 immature guys made it far funnier than it should have been.
There was a crazy storm a few nights ago… they set up ropes between the buildings and we all had to stay put unless we agreed to take snacks with us in case we got stuck somewhere.  The bars closed (this was a big deal to everyone), and events were cancelled.  You could hear the wind screaming from deep within buildings… I have never heard wind so angry.  This is a picture during the day, before it got really bad… you could barely see 20 feet to the next building.
This is a picture of where I spend a lot of time everyday, in the laundry room of dorm 211.  We haven't officially gotten our building assignments, but I have cleaned this dorm for the past 5 days, and it would be really cool if I could stay here since this is where Mom and Scott will probably live when they get here.
The big blue building is 155, the heart of McMurdo.  This is where I live, where I meet for work in the morning, where I eat, where I spend about 80% of my day.  I've been cleaning the halls in the afternoon, which is a social overload since people are streaming through constantly.  The other day I was buffing the floor with a machine and several men offered me money to sit and spin on the machine as they passed by.  Nice.  You also end up seeing the same people again and again and again, and saying hi every time gets old fast.  But it's also fun to be able to visit with people while working.
It's still mostly dark, so when I walk to the dorm I'll be cleaning in the morning and take out the trash, I get to see some gorgeous lighting as the sun thinks about coming up.  All three of these shots above are morning light, my favorite.
While I haven't actually seen the sun yet, it does get very bright for about 4 hours everyday now.  Today was the first time it's been clear out, as it's been so stormy, and the view of Ob Hill was stunning.  Scrubbing toilets and mopping floors inside so much, I forget where I am sometimes until I step outside and see the Royal Society Mtns across the sea ice and feel the sharp sting of frigid air in my lungs.  It blows my mind every time: I'm in freakin' Antarctica!
Finally, this is the sunset from tonight.  I was using my crappy camera, so I didn't capture the nacreus clouds very well, but the sky was glorious orange, with some shimmery pink nacreus clouds nestled at the horizon.  I had probably my worst day yet today, but when I saw this view as I was dragging linen across town, I instantly felt better.
This place is completely crazy.

22 August 2010

my first antarctic days

Today is my sixth day here on the ice, and it already feels like a lifetime ago that I was strapped into the side of a C17 cargo plane, listening to the obscure punk rock provided by the guy sitting next to me, trying to imagine what it would be like when we landed.  I've already acquired such a new, bizarre wealth of knowledge, and yet  still feel like I have no idea what's going on.
I'll start back where I left off.  After the wonderful two days in Christchurch, we all boarded the shuttles and headed to the CDC, where we would be gearing up in our big red jackets, checking in with military personnel, and boarding a gigantic cargo plane.  We had a few hours of waiting around, as the companies who run the program seem to think that six hours early is necessary for all of the just in case scenarios.  One of the military guys who worked there offered to give me and a few other ladies a ride in a haglund, this jointed vehicle used on the ice.  It's basically two different boxes connected, with seats lining the edges.  They have a course at the CDC where I guess people learn how to drive them?  But anyways, it involves a large pond, steep hills, and sharp turns.  And like most men that I've come across so far on this journey, our driver decided to put on a show to impress us.  It was like riding the most rickety rollercoaster ever, but not being able to see ahead and anticipate what was coming next.  I spent most of that ride in the air, being constrained from catapulting by one little strap across my waist.  I almost threw up and felt woozy until halfway through the five hour flight.
While there were lots of airline type seats in the middle of the cargo plane, I opted for the true experience and sat strapped onto the side.  It was not the most comfortable decision, as the seat is just a strip of canvas between two bars.  Ouch.  But I sat next to a 30 year old who had been to the ice before, so he was a good distraction, and volunteered to play DJ for me with his brand new headphones.  So I was entertained the whole way down, and it is quite the experience to ride in one of those things. 
We were the last of three night flights, meaning we arrived at around 8pm that first night, whereas usually people arrive in the early afternoon.  The military were getting trained using night goggles while flying.  After a remarkably smooth landing, the plane kept sliding along the ice for a good 5 or 6 minutes, and then suddenly my lungs felt a sharp burst of frigid air and everyone immediately had large clouds of breath above their heads.  Stepping off the plane was one of the most overwhelming feelings.  It was dark, but you could just sense the emptiness of the environment, and there were large vehicles and people herding you towards Ivan the Terra Bus, where all 60 of us crammed on and rode the forty five minutes to McMurdo.  The windows of the bus were instantly iced over from our breath and some people spent most of the ride trying to scratch out a little view hole.  The driver was also constantly scratching at the windshield, which I was too tired to be alarmed about.  The man driving the bus had a wild look in his eyes and a bright pink beard - clearly a winter-over, somebody who had remained on the ice through the long dark winter.  You can tell winter-overs immediately just by looking at them… extremely pale, sullen, almost vampire-like, and the majority of them are not friendly, and not happy to be encroached upon by all of us arriving for winfly.
The rest of that night was not pleasant.  It involved walking across town in the dark, a town that I have no familiarity with, finding building 140, getting my 130+ lbs of luggage, trying to find a shuttle, and then hauling them up two flights of stairs to try and find my room.  I've really lucked out bc I still don't have a roommate, and I will be getting 4.  A lot of people already have at least 2 or 3, and at first I was really jealous because I was so lonely, but now that I have some friends, my room has been good for pre-party celebrations.
Work is exhausting, but being a janitor turns out to be one of the best jobs down here.  I am going to be assigned my own dorm and work building to clean, where I am left to do as I please, as long as I get the job done.  It is extremely laid-back, and the people I work with are incredibly cool.  Most of them are returnees, so it was hard to infiltrate their inner circle, but I've definitely made friends with at least half of them now.  It's difficult to make friends here because there's a lot of small talk at this point, since everyone is settling in, and it really is mostly men.  And it turns out men aren't as interested in being friends, and if they invite you to go listen to music in their room, that's not what they actually mean.  I learned that the hard way.  Awkward.  I haven't had to buy myself a single drink so far, which is fairly convenient on the old wallet.  
I've had some really gross happenings at work.  Like my first day, when I was going through a skua bin (where people put stuff they don't want anymore, and other people can take it), and picked up a wet pee bottle with my bare hands, and then went on to find a wrapped up pillow case which was holding a vibrator.  I asked the girl training me if I should put it in the non-recyclable bin, and said no, that somebody would want it so keep it in skua.  There are about 12 different trash categories that everything must be sorted into, and it gets really complicated.
I've been forcing myself to get out and about… I've taken the shuttle over the Scott Base, which is the New Zealand station down here.  I've gone to karaoke, which was incredibly depressing, as it was mostly winter-overs moaning really sad songs.  And then last night, the carpenter shop put on a huge party which most of the station went to, and there were a bunch of different live bands and lots of dancing.  It was such a blast, and by far the high point of my time so far.  Next Saturday night, the janos are having a hut10 party, and that should be really fun. 
I haven't had the chance to get outside much yet, especially since it's been in the negative 30s, but walking between buildings for work, I've had the chance to see some cool stuff.  The first official sunrise was three days ago, and it was incredibly anticlimactic, since there was a mountain blocking it.  But it did add some nice oranges and pinks to the sky.
The next morning there was an incredible hot pink nacreus cloud, but I didn't have my camera with me.  I did manage to snap a picture of a couple of nacreus clouds that looked like opals with different pinks, purples and blues… the colors were much brighter than pictured here… they were like nothing I had ever seen before. 
Phew, that was a lot longer than I planned on, sorry if it was really boring.  I've been too tired and busy to take many pictures, but I'll get on that this week.  I still feel like I'm walking around lost all the time, and like I have no real friends, but I've only cried once, and I'm definitely sinking in a little more each day.  It's getting better and better, and I can already tell that this place has the potential to be amazing. 
More soon.

16 August 2010

Christchurch, NZ

I'm staying in the most darling little B&B called the Windsor.  It's only blocks away from the botanical gardens, downtown, art museums, etc.  Plus it comes with a glorious breakfast (although I wasn't completely sold on having spaghetti, baked beans, and creamed corn come with my eggs), a cute old couple that runs it, and their dog Winnie who wanders the hallways.
The seasons are just beginning to shift from winter to spring down here, and it is damn chilly.  It's only in the 40's, but I just came from the middle of summer, and it is a deep, wet cold.  Especially since it's constantly misting... I walked home with my teeth chattering last night.
And yet, there are flowers, and leaves on other plants.  There are even palm trees.  There are some strange juxtapositions going on right now... budding flowers, trees without leaves, seeing your breath, glimpsing a parrot in a palm tree.  It's quite strange, especially knowing that it was in the 80s back home today and my brother went to a water park.  But the strangest thing at all is that I am going to a place that is almost 100 degrees colder tomorrow.  Yikes.
There is a big, glorious art museum just around the corner from the Windsor, and I spent some time strolling around this afternoon to get out of the cold.  There was some modern Maori pieces, some electrical pieces that made me think of torture devices, and some really fabulous displays about flight.  Plus there was this Warhol of Mao... I took this for you, GO4, and totally got scolded for it.
Even though I fell asleep in my room at 4pm, and could have stayed asleep, I made myself go out once more for an evening stroll through the botanical gardens.  They're supposed to be spectacular, and at this time of the year it wasn't at its best, but it was still lovely to walk around, savoring the bits of green while I can.
This tree was wearing a sweater.  Don't ask me why.  But I liked it.
A second after taking this picture of myself, I almost got run over by a pack of running men.  It's very hard to remember that traffic goes on the left here, including pedestrians.  Not only have I almost stepped out into oncoming cars several times, but I've had a number of near misses with people too.
Enjoying walking through grass before 7 months without it.
I'm not sure why, but there were also a number of men running with pink wigs.  Happy.
I kind of split off from the group today, which was just what I needed.  Jet lag really seems to have gotten to me, as I've already taken two naps today, I'm planning on being asleep before 9pm, and I've felt like I'm floating all day.  Christchurch is awesome, and I'm really excited to come back and explore it during the summertime after my stint on the ice.  I've had more than a couple moments today where I stopped and thought, "Whoa.  I'm in New Zealand.  I'm really freakin' far from home."  Very cool.
Tomorrow at an undisclosed time (rumors are 10am, noon, 2pm... I still need to get to the bottom of it), I will be heading to the CDC, getting suited up in my ECW (extreme cold weather gear), and boarding a military cargo plane, headed to Antarctica.  Hoooly crap.

15 August 2010

in new zealand, finally!

Money ain't a thang!
First thing after walking into the Raytheon Office, I was given a wad of $210 for travel money.  Then I sat in safety orientations for the rest of the day.  Very uneventful.  The afternoon before was spent hanging out in my hotel room.  I met my first ice person on my shuttle from the airport to the Red Lion, and he was not friendly.  "You're a first year," he stated; it was not a question.
I also had an adventurous walk to the nearest food opportunity, a grocery store.  I had the most delicious picnic dinner on my hotel bed, watching trashy television.
During the full day of training, I had the opportunity to go outside and read a few times.  At the end of the day, we turned in our security badges and then ended up having to wait outside for our shuttles for an hour... in the sunshine.
Hello, South Island!  
The next 36 hours were crazy.  The day began with hours of safety training (i.e. watching power points), then a drive to the airport, then a four hour wait in the airport, then a three hour flight to LA, then a six hour layover there, then a fourteen hour flight to Auckland, then a four hour layover there, then a two hour flight to Christchurch.  Then a shuttle ride to the charming little bed and breakfast I'm staying at.
Despite hating window seats, and requesting aisles for my trip down, I ended up in the window from Auckland to Christchurch, and I was glad I did.  I got to see the islands start appearing in the ocean, and then the glorious Southern Alps peaking out of the clouds.
This is Sharon who was a dining attendant last year and will be a janitor with me this year.  We stopped into a NZ equivalent to a dollar store which was filled with hilarious Asian products.  This is a CD case with puppies wearing tshirts and it says "HAPPY TIME i am fascinated with your love."  It's pretty bizarre traveling down in a group of 50 people that you just met.  A lot of them know each other from working the previous year on the ice.  Everywhere you go, every corner of the airport has an ice person.  They're everywhere you look on the plane.  There's a certain camaraderie that forms amid the group, but I also can't help but feel a little claustrophobic.  I'm not exactly sure of the number of people in my group.  I've heard rumors though: 51, 48, 67… Everybody has a different, specific number that they reference.  That's the thing I've learned the quickest: rumors are like a currency amid this population.  There are speculations about everything - what our terminal will be, will we be postponed in Christchurch (or ChCh, pronounced "cheech" as ice people refer to it), who is returning and who is sleeping with whom.  I'm one of about 10 or 11 women in this group.  Most of the people are older - 50s, 60s.  There's also a fair amount of 30s, and then 5 or 6 of us are in the early 20 range.  There aren't any people I feel a connection with out of this sampling of the McMurdo population, but people are kind and quick to laugh.  I am in kind of a strange middle ground, having never been down there before but hearing two seasons' worth of stories and information from my Mom… I know what people are talking about, but feel strange contributing to the conversation.  Plus, despite having a good grasp on the situation, I've made a couple mistakes.  A large amount of people work the night shift and their lunch is called "midrats," short for midnight rations.  I referred to it as, "moonrats," and then thinking that I was correcting myself, said "skidrats."  Neither being correct, of course.  Also, Chch ("cheech")… I referred to as "chach."  Definitely not right.  Oh well.  I'm taking comfort in the fact that I felt fairly comfortable the whole way down… maneuvering all of the social, travel, and training situations just fine.  I have a steady mantra going, "You're doing great, you're doing great, you're so capable."  And so far, so good.
I apologize for this post being all over the place... I haven't even rested since the 36 hours of travel, and am trying to stay up to a decent hour to get into the new time zone.  It's only 7pm right now and I could pass out instantly if I wanted.  After checking into the Windsor B&B, I took the most gratifying shower I've had in a long time.  The entire group had started to smell pretty funky so it was a relief to have a hot shower and put on something other than sweats.  Sharon and I went and had absolutely delicious souvlaki with falafel.  Then we walked all over Chch.  We ran into ice people of course and visited the dollar store and stopped at an interactive display about dyslexia and peeked in on three ministers getting ordained at the cathedral and checked out some of the winter sales going on.  There were bells ringing at the cathedral and twinkling lights everywhere and there are no leaves on the trees and you could see your breath... it felt like Christmas was approaching.  Now I'm off to go see Scott Pilgrim vs The World which I am excited about, even though I would much rather just go to sleep, but I've been warned that it's trouble going to sleep so early the first night... gotta get into the new time zone.  My plan for tomorrow is to escape the group and wander around town with my camera, so hopefully I will post tomorrow or the next day with some decent pics.

10 August 2010

taking off

So this it.
My last night before beginning the journey to Antarctica.  It's going to take me a week to get down to the ice, with an orientation in Denver, a long layover in LA, a 15 hour flight to New Zealand, another flight to the south island, crossing the international dateline, and a few days in Christchurch NZ, then one more flight to the ice.  Phew!  
Needless to say, I'm excited, I'm stressed, I'm overwhelmed, I'm giddy, and I'm probably not going to sleep much tonight.
Tonight felt like The Last Supper, which by the way was leftovers, and I took a tearful last walk up in the mountains with this beauteous dog.  Just look at those eyes!  I'm going to miss Zoe something fierce.  Not to mention the golds, greens, greys, and blues of Montana.  And everyone here.  And everyone on the East Coast.  And so on and so forth.

The past few days have gone by far too fast as I've tried to cram as much as possible into this short and sweet summer.
I've been:
snuggling with the doggies as much as possible,
soaking in the puddles of sunshine on the porch,
going to the farmers market one last time,
strolling around listening to new music,
 catching up with good friends with rad new tattoos,
pulling over in downtown missoula to give quick goodbye hugs,
watching good movies (i went and saw inception a second time - go see it!),
 mountain biking around lake como (which involved some good battle scars, a standoff with an angry mama bird, and a few too many curse words...),
eating favorite summer meals for the last time in a while,
and this is not a summer activity, but an unimaginable amount of packing.
I've (unwillingly) become a packing pro.  I even have a packing list detailing every last thing in each suitcase and backpack.  Gross, right?
So finally.  This is where I'm going.  One of my mother's friends who is down there right now posted this picture today of what it looks like right now.  Primarily dark, but the sun is on its way.  I get there two days before the sun officially rises, which is going to be unreal.
Honestly?  I feel like I'm going to the moon.
Here I go!
Stay tuned.

05 August 2010

closin' up shop

This is just a quick note to let you all know that this weekend will be the last opportunity to order anything from my little shop.  I wish I could keep making things and selling them from Antarctica, but apparently running any sort of a business from down there is prohibited.  Oh well.  Order anything before 7am MST Monday morning, and I'll throw in a little surprise too :)
Click on any of the little photos for a direct link to that item.

And since that's not terribly exciting, I'll leave you with a ridiculous picture of me trying on some of my new Antarctic garb.
I know, right?

04 August 2010

under the bed

Oh my, I've got a lot on my mind.
Processing the emotionally difficult but wildly fun and empowering job I just finished up at Flathead Lake.
Starting to put my mind towards the week long journey to the bottom of the world I'll be making in exactly one week.
Beginning to pack, which is literally my least favorite thing to do.  I have never packed for 7 months in the coldest place on earth and then 2 months in New Zealand, and let me tell you, it's not easy.  I have a spreadsheet going with about two pages typed in so far, and only half of a suitcase packed.
Packing always leads to creative discoveries via procrastination for me, and while sitting exasperated on my bedroom floor, I glanced under my bed.  Out came my old art portfolio, along with hideous strands of dust and hair.  Yeah, I don't look under there very often.
I proceeded to go through all of the hilarious, nostalgic, and slightly disturbing pieces, having a new outlook on the work with some college psychology under my belt.  Images that confused me and kept popping up in my drawings back then make a lot more sense now.
I also found a little folder with my first attempts at film photography, a medium that frustrated me, as I didn't have enough of a grasp on the process.  (And still don't).
But looking at them made me think about how far my photos have come.  I really like the two that I am posting below, photos that an angrier and younger version of myself took six years ago.  But all of the other photos are underexposed, sloppy, clearly taken with a grumpy haste.  Even the photos I was taking earlier this year no longer speak to me as clearly.  And I think it's because of all the blogs I look at, all of the incredible flickr accounts I admire.  Looking at the work people put out there, and examining what I like about them has been similar to being in a photography class for me, except one I feel comfortable in, and can see my growth from.
So, here are my procrastinatory (new word?) discoveries from the past.  And yes, this is a form of procrastination in itself, and yes, I am avoiding the future looming closer and closer by divulging in this.