As I sit here in the Coffee House that I’ve shared many good memories over the last summer with some of the people I’ve loved most before it closes for the winter, it’s hard not to feel sentimental. When I first stepped foot into this building 5 months ago, it was a place of solace to be able to write in my blog unperturbed by 1,000 other people in such a small community during the night time. It was also a place that all my fellow Midrats and friends could watch movies and saturday morning cartoons while we were all off. I now know that this is how most of McMurdo has become for me.
Within the last 2 weeks our population here at the base has dropped from an incredibly busy and active community of around 1,100 people to nearly 400. This sheer drop in staff has left a lot of the dorms and hallways deserted. The final count until the end of April will be close to 170 by the end of next week, the 28th of February. After that, the number will be much closer to 120 as winter finally settles in over Mac town. The sun will set on April 25th and not rise again until the 19th of August, which just so happens to coincide with the first flight of the season called Winfly. This flight will herald in the coming research summer season here at McMurdo. By this time, I’ll see some of my old friends that I met the previous year. Within that drastic drop in population over the last 2 weeks, however, I’ve seen most of my friends fly off into the beautiful, ever-changing sky of Antarctica on their way back to Christchurch, New Zealand.
Many will travel around New Zealand, through Asia, or all over Australia. In the end though, most will end up back in their lives in civilization with their families and friends. Most won’t ever see this harsh continent again or at least forgo coming back down here for a while longer. The few that end up back here next summer will inevitably search for more gainful employment through other departments, changing the entire dynamic that we’ve all made in the kitchen and community this year. I’ve worked with good groups of people throughout the time I’ve spent doing contract work. My history in this work stems all the way back to when I was a 14 year old doing contract catering work over the hot, dry summers in Northern Utah and each crew I’ve worked with since then have been distinctly different each time. I’ve learned that the only way to be able to say goodbye to all these people that you may never see again, people that you’ve grown so fond of while working with their distinct personalities, people that have become so ingrained in your mind and work that you almost have to start over every time this dynamic changes is to implement all the good things you’ve cherished about these amazing people into your daily working and living life.
For instance, what I learned from Sam, the guy I became such good friends with from Pennsylvania that put himself through “the ringer” in this industry early in his life, is to remember how young I still am. I don’t need to go to the best schools or show everybody what I’m made of right out of the gates every single moment of the day. Bracing myself for the future is almost as important as preparing myself for where I want to be in years to come. I remember being 16 and working upwards of 80-90 hours a week. Each hour I worked in these weeks when I was so young was almost a badge of honor among people I worked with. Looking back, I now know how flawed this thinking was. I lost many special moments with my family over working such exorbitant hours instead of just focusing on other people in my life.
I learned from Annie, the girl from New England that showed so much emotion and kindness towards everyone that deserved it. I grew up in a very distant family. I didn’t ever spend much time with most of my relatives around me. My cousins, uncles, aunts, grandmas and grandpas had their own lives and there were only a few relatives my mom, brothers, and I ever got to see on a fairly regular basis. This was normal to me growing up so whatever time I got to spend with other relatives, my mom made it a point to try and make sure I knew they all loved me. This amazing girl, Annie, reminded me that even though this connection I made with these people I will rarely see after the time we spent on this island together will surely never be the same after they leave doesn’t mean I need to distance myself from them while I’m here. She also helped me put into perspective how small a lot of the trivial issues that arise in such a small community really matter in the long run, especially when there will only be 120 people here at McMurdo for most of the winter.
Last, but not least, I learned from Kitty Cat, the girl from Texas that’s been another close friend of mine while working here, that I should never be ashamed of who I am or what I like in this life. I remember very vividly back in middle school when I was much shyer than I am now being looked down on by my closest friend for being who I am. Many times my best friends in middle school told me specifically to not embarrass them in front of people they thought were in the cool crowd, which made me self-conscious about a lot of other things in my life. I realize they never really were friends that had my best interests at heart, which is sad. I got over this a while back but this amazing girl from the humid plains of Texas reminded me that it doesn’t matter who’s around me. If someone doesn’t like me for no other reason than what I enjoy doing to pass my time, I don’t need them in my life. Even in such a small community as this.
I have dozens and dozens of other little things I’m going to try to remember from other people around McMurdo that I’ll hold dear to my heart. I’ve thought about making a list of things I’ll definitely need reminders of over this winter. I do pretty well with lists. Maybe a blog post I can print out and hang on my new winter housing room? We shall see. I know I haven’t posted in more than a couple weeks. After I got switched out of the runway with my future uncertain at whether I’d be staying in Antarctica, my schedule had turned erratic. It was switched 7 times from early morning to a late swing shift to cover for people leaving so it was extremely hard to etch out any time to write. It wasn’t until my suggested R&R, a week long vacation from work in McMurdo, that I was finally able to turn my thoughts into life on here.
I also never noticed how badly my body was hurting after this summer season. My body hurt in places I never knew it was hurting, along with a particular injury I got clear back in October that never had the time to fully heal. When the higher ups in my orientation told me at the start of the season that I need to watch my body closely since it’s incredibly difficult for injuries to heal down here, I didn’t believe them. After the last 5 months of the same injury plaguing the same spot on my leg, I’m definitely going to be taking care not to strain my body too bad. During the last 6 days of my R&R, I have been able to heal myself and get ready to work the long hours in the winter for the next 8 months. We’ll see really soon if it was enough.
During the last 2 years, I’ve found that my time off in these isolated places is much better spent occupying my time with projects I’ve always wanted to learn. Last winter during my time in the Arctic, I decided to start this blog, get my health in check, and work on different cooking techniques. All of these I ended up doing by the end of the summer. This winter my plan will be to learn Spanish, do at least 8 articles on this blog about different explorers that have undoubtedly influenced me, and read 10 books that I’ve always wanted to read. I feel I’ll probably want to do more than that in the 8 months that I’ll be here over the long wintery nights but we’ll start with that. I’ve found a group of people that are eager to learn Spanish along with a fluent speaker and have already started Rosetta Stone so I’ve done pretty good in preemptively preparing myself for the projects I’ve set for myself.
This summer has been fantastic. If this winter compares in any way to how much fun I had this summer, I’ll have considered my 14 months in Antarctica a resounding success. Even though 8 months isn’t that long of a time, a lot can happen between now and the time I set foot back in Christchurch but I’m going into this season with a renewed vigor that can only uplift me. I’ve always believed that a good attitude can change a situation for the better so as long as I assume the best in everything I do, I’ll have a great time. Send good vibes my way people! I’ll definitely be needing it within the next few months.