Sitting less than two miles away from McMurdo are a very unique and surreal group of features in the Antarctic landscape called pressure ridges. Pressure ridges are the result of heating and cooling. Ice shrinks under extreme cold and forms cracks, which are then filled with seawater, which in turn freezes. Then, during warmer periods, the ice expands and crunches into the newly frozen ice, creating a torn and beautiful landscape. This process is similar to that of when tectonic plates form mountain ranges. Throughout the season, safe routes are mapped through the ridges on which guided tours are led. The path twists between thirty-foot tall slabs of blue and white that bend into the sky like mangled steel. Wind-swept pinnacles of ice form otherworldly sculptures that loom above in front of a blue/gray sky. Deep blue glacial ice glows from underneath a thin layer of fresh snow. These giants of ice and snow stand as a testament to the ever-changing landscape of the McMurdo Sound. The size of these mammoth slabs of ice demonstrates the sheer power of nature. All of this glory sits below Mt. Erebus, reigning supremely in the distance.
Along with taking a tour of the breathtaking pressure ridges, this week found me helping out a team of electricians stringing up approach lights on the new ice runway we are building this season. The ice runway is a temporary runway that is constructed in the beginning of mainbody (summer) while the ice is still strong and thick enough to land large planes on. Our normal runway, Pegasus, is 14 miles from McMurdo. The ice runway is constructed close to town, saving huge amounts of fuel from the shorter drive convoys of vehicles and equipment have to make to and from the runway every day. Although temporary, the runway is still constructed to meet FAA regulations, which is why we were out stringing up lights. Approach lights are the visual cues that pilots use to determine the beginning of a runway. The weather was rough the first half of the day, and our fingers numbed as we strung hundreds and hundreds of feet of power cable through the wind and the cold. The sun glowed hazily through the snow whipping through the air. Later in the day, the wind slowed and the visibility improved, revealing majestic blue and white mountains ranges, steaming volcanoes, and the vast flatness of the Ross Ice Shelf.
The ending of winfly is bittersweet. Wonderful things are aboard the first flight of mainbody that was scheduled to land today but was delayed: freshies, mail, and my mama. It’s been almost six weeks since the last flight, which means six weeks since we last got fresh fruits or vegetables. Yesterday we pulled an old, slightly brown, very grainy apple out of our fridge and split it over our Sunday picnic. Despite the promise of pineapples, oranges, and tomatoes, there is a whole slew of new people about to arrive. The planes that are waiting for the weather to clear hold 143 people who are going to invade our galley, increase the lines for the computer kiosk, and bring a whole new slew of germs. Then, every few days another plane will land with another 120 or so people until station is at full capacity, around 1,200 people.
This past week, our last few days of winfly peacefulness, was jam-packed. Once a week during our daily janitorial morning meeting, we have a safety meeting in which someone gives a presentation. I volunteered to do this and also signed up to do the winfly craft fair. With only four to five hours of free time a day, my time had filled quickly. I spent every evening looking up the health benefits of hugs – the topic of my presentation – while making earrings. We also had a lot of social engagements, like a coffee house scrabble date, an animal-themed costume birthday party, and a farewell gathering at Gallagher’s (one of the bars) for Travis, a winter-over, who is leaving on the incoming flight.
It seems like every week flies by faster and faster, and this past one definitely zoomed. Monday morning always feels daunting, as there are sixty hours of work looming ahead before another short sweet day off. But being that busy makes the time go by that much faster. The safety meeting, despite giving me that nasty dreaded feeling of finals week, ended up being really fun as I made everyone hug each other for six seconds – the optimal amount for the release of good chemicals. The craft fair was also great; any glimpse into how creative this community is always makes me feel excited and honored to be a part of it. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be wearing a new Mountain Hardwear coat, eating a carrot, and hugging my mom.