Saturday, June 28, 2008

It's official

I usually don't put too much really personal stuff on my blog but I do have to share this news with family, friends and total strangers.

This picture has been on our scroller for the past few days:

Yes, Michael and I are officially engaged! He proposed on June 25 as we took a moonlit stroll around the station. For anyone who knows Michael, for him to want to go outside here for a walk should be the first sign that something unusual is up. But he said that he wanted to get away from the station and enjoy the moon so we suited up in our ECW and headed out. Even though the temperature was -90F at the time, it was indeed a nice afternoon with soft waning moonlight and a faint aurora overhead.

We got to the geographic pole and that's when he got on his knee and popped the question. He even had a symbolic ring that our friend Paul, a plumber/maintenance specialist, made for us out of a section of copper pipe. Of course we had to take off our gloves and mittens to get the ring on, which led to some mild frostnip on the fingertips, but how often do you get a marriage proposal at the actual geographic South Pole?

Then he led me to the Cargo office where Nate had helped him decorate it with Christmas lights, had a video of a roaring fireplace playing on the TV and a bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice which had frozen solid on the way out there. We toasted and tried to make a call home to family to tell them the news but the satellite was squirrelly and we couldn't get a line out. So we headed back to the station for dinner and to my surprise, just about everyone there already knew the news. And soon, our Comms tech Shaun had the above message on the scroller to congratulate us.

So now the word is out and although we're enjoying the winter here, we're now especially looking forward to getting off the ice and starting a new life together. South Pole will always be a special place to me but now it's even more special since this is where I've met the love of my life and it's only perfectly fitting that we got engaged right at the pole marker for 90 degrees South.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


We've reached the halfway point of winter.

Mid-Winter's Day is the biggest holiday for all Antarctic stations with crews wintering over on this continent. The winter solstice marks the farthest that the sun is going get away from us and from now on, it's all downhill from here. We sent out our official greeting card plus an invitation to join us for dinner, as if anyone could drop by, but it's a tradition for many of the stations to extend jocular invitations to fellow Antarcticans or a toast in their absence.

Calee was the photographer for our group photo and although it looks like we have daylight, honestly it's pitchblack dark out. She used a 15 second exposure which caught enough moonlight so that you can see us in the dark. I'm the shortest one standing in a red parka.

Our menu reflected the talents of our fabulous chefs and Deb, Chris and Sous Chef Michael planned out an internationally themed feast featuring ingredients and recipes from around the world.

The main entree was a trio of duck, salmon and tenderloin, all paired with unique sauces and starches like homemade spaetzle. The half eaten roll in the corner is homemade kumara bread, a recipe from a Kiwi show that we're watching, Hunger for the Wild, and we used the last of our fresh kumara (like sweet potatoes) from New Zealand in the bread.

I couldn't finish everything in the entree but I ate my entire dessert, a mint creme filled chocolate cake covered with rich ganache. It was Michael's personal creation and if he ever opens up his own restaurant, I'm sure this will be a signature dessert.

This will be our last Mid-Winter celebration. After this season it will be time to move on to something different and for now, Michael and I are going to enjoy the rest of our time here at South Pole, look forward to the return of the sun in a few months and think about what will come next in life...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A whole lot of nothing going on

I recently received a copy of this Reuters news article from Rediron, an Antarctic veteran from the glory days of Operation Deep Freeze station construction in the 1950s:

Antarctic base gets condom haul before winter
16,500 prophylactics arrive for 125 scientists, staff before darkness sets in

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - One of the last shipments to a U.S. research base in Antarctica before the onset of winter darkness was a year's supply of condoms, a New Zealand newspaper reported Monday.

Bill Henriksen, the manager of the McMurdo base station, said nearly 16,500 condoms were delivered last month and would be made available, free of charge, to staff throughout the year to avoid the potential embarrassment of having to buy them. The base only has a skeleton staff through the long winter.

"Since everybody knows everyone, it becomes a little bit uncomfortable," Henriksen told the Southland Times newspaper. About 125 scientists and staff are stationed at McMurdo base, the largest community in Antarctica, during the winter months when there is constant darkness.

The first sunrise will occur on Aug. 20 and McMurdo's population will start to increase again in September when supply flights resume, peaking at more than 1,000 during the summer period.

News from Antarctica always seems to be popular but making non-news into even more sensationalistic headlines is just too irresistable for the media. Knowing Bill, who was the South Pole Winter Site Manager for my winters in 2003 and 2005, he probably included some bad jokes and sarcastic remarks about the fact that the reporter was trying to turn this into a news story, but it seems that the only pieces of information that caught on were "16,500 condoms" and "125 scientists and staff". The reader's own imagination serves to fill in the titillating details from juxtaposition.

They're almost making it sound like it was a desperate last minute emergency supply flight for a pallet of condoms for the 125 crew members who must have nothing else to do for the winter except screw around. Why didn't they report that there was a supply of Southern Hemisphere flu vaccine on that last flight that will be used to innoculate the winter crew just before the first flight of the summer season which is like a plague ship to the New World? What about reporting about the precious fresh food flown in that will be the last fresh stuff that the crew will see for months? Surely there were some interesting scientific instruments or construction supplies that just made it onto the continent in time for the winter? No, no one will care about that but 16,500 condoms...that's news!

The article also caught the attention of the government agency overseeing the stations and apparently it wasn't aware that our official Standard Operating Procedure for each station states that Medical will provide some OTC items to the community such as ibuprofen, cough drops and condoms. I was told an alarm was raised that we are wasting our precious budget (which is being cut by 10% this year) by providing FREE condoms to everyone and if you do the math suggested by the headline, that's 132 condoms per person. By the way, our supply at South Pole is 2592 condoms which comes out to only 43.2 condoms per person for the winter. We're getting gypped here.

Of course, it should be emphasized that these large numbers of supplies are meant to last a population that fluctuates to more than 1000 at McMurdo for more than a year and it's probably expected to last well into the next season.

In case anyone thinks we're just having orgies down's just not the case. We have 48 men and 12 women here for the winter and there's a whole lot less shacking up than you probably think. I stocked the bathrooms with condoms in February and they haven't needed any resupply as far as I can tell.

Now because of this ridiculous article, the idea of charging people for the condoms has been raised because the government agency certainly don't want to be subsidizing the wanton free-for-all sex that must be going on at these hedonistic stations. It's been a part of the Medical budget for years and it makes sense from a public health standpoint that condoms are easily available to the community because some things are just inevitable. This important part of our standard Medical supplies was never an issue before this article came out.

The price for a supply of condoms for an isolated community: a couple of thousand dollars. The price for several unwanted pregnancies because people were too embarassed to buy condoms at Polemart in front of their colleagues and supervisors: priceless.