© Stephen Eastaugh, 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Outside it is cold, dark and noisy or I could say very cold, very dark and very noisy. Reading is the current activity for me and predictably the novels I plod through are somehow fitting to my situation. If on a winter's night a traveller - Italo Calvino. Heart of darkness - Joseph Conrad. Journey to the end of the night - Louis Ferdinand Celine. Terra Antarctica - William Fox. Negative horizon - Paul Virilio. H2O - Philip Ball and Solitude - Anthony Storr.
Time, dates and occasionally months have become fuzzy down here. Daytime has left this part of Antarctica. In fact using the term 'day' here seems rather silly at the moment. I eat my lunch as the sun hides just below the horizon so a glimmer of twilight is all we get. What is the correct Antarctic small talk/greeting during winter? "It's a nice night today" or "Lovely day this night" or perhaps "Good twilight to you" could shrink to "G'twi mate"? Actually everyone mostly watches and comments on the wind velocity and then the temperature down here. As is to be expected my circadian rhythm or body clock is a little mangled but not so bad as to make normal operation difficult. All this darkness is great if you're a vampire but I begin to miss the sun a little. Strangely a vampire series is being screened during this month in the mini cinema. I munch on vitamin C and D pills and know that light and warmth will return but that is in a few months time. We all hurry up and wait for that.
While waiting we watched some very attractive nacreous clouds recently. These rare mother of pearl like clouds form 20 kilometres above the polar-regions during winter as they require tiny ice crystals and atmospheric temperatures below -85C to occur. We also saw solar pillars before the sun disappeared and dancing Auroras appear in the dark sky every so often to visually entertain us.
I want to hibernate as my body tells me to do so but my brain wants me to make art. This body vs. mind war battles on over the winter period but I feel a truce coming on. My brain is the referee so it usually gives the title to the mind but the body sometimes just shuts down and I crawl into my sleeping donga to catch up on lost sleep.
Antics occur over the year to help grease the time and massage bouts of hut fever. Not sure if the doctor has any medicine for hut fever. I must ask him. Traditionally it comes in a bottle and smells of alcohol. The primary Antarctic tradition is the Mid-Winter feast. Here at Mawson station on June 21 we amused ourselves with the following - 1000 Brunch 1200 Swim (Yes we cut a hole in the sea ice and performed a polar plunge. It was -19C and 30-knot winds so rather invigorating.) 1500 A.A.T.W.O.P. (A micro exhibition of my works on paper.) 1600 Nunatak Brewery's new line of boutique beers tasting. 1700 Mid-winters dinner or should I say feast. 1900 Evening Entertainment. - 'Cinderella' (The traditional Antarctic play performed for decades on many stations.) - Director's Cut Station movie. - Classical music from Tom and Doug. - Other stations mid winter movies.
All entertainment intended to mark the mid way point between arrival and extraction for this very isolated crew of Mawsonites. Imagine living in a tiny village with a population of 16 people. There is no way to leave for ten months and you will not see anyone else at all. The other expeditioneers are initially strangers but soon friends as outside the village there is plenty of fatal weather mixed with astonishing views that bond everyone to various degrees. A number of social and personal skills are obviously required to make the village run smoothly. The 2009 winter crew are all a pretty fine mob of characters so we survive easily. After the mid winter festivities I had a nice mug of hot chocolate with rum and then fell into bed for two days to repair.
Most creatures have left the continent except the male Emperor penguin who is now busy huddling, incubating and waiting for their partners to return from a six week long extremely arduous shopping trip. There is also lichen, moss, ice algae and other tiny life forms hanging onto survival as well as the odd, warmly dressed human. My estimate is about 1000 humans are scattered across the entire continent this winter.
To humanize this seemingly endless continent is a complicated chore but we humans like a challenge and we are pretty good at adapting. Currently under the flag of science a number of countries gingerly colonize this part of the globe. Usually the term colonize has a nasty smell about it as it can mean evicting, killing or assimilating the previous inhabitants. As no humans have ever lived on this continent there is no one about to bother but it is far from an easy place to settle or even survive in. Today part-time Antarcticans across the continent are careful to not disturb the wildlife as well as the tiny pockets of vegetation so we all tread as gently as possible. My hope is that this polite, receptive attitude towards Antarctica will remain and also spread to other continents but that is asking a great deal indeed.
Trips out to Auster rookery and Taylor rookery recently displayed to me the unbelievable lifestyle of the Emperor Penguin. This is one tough bird that each year comically waddles over the sea ice surviving near starvation and blizzards with what seems like the greatest of ease.
Blizzards when they reach a certain level are very noisy, over 50 knots and some people cannot sleep without earplugs. One gauge which is utilized regarding moving about safely is that if the wind gust knot reading is over your body weight then walking and standing can be difficult. So at my current weight I must be careful when it is gusting above 70 knots, then getting to and from the studio is a splendid way to freshen up. Sometimes it is best just to say in bed and nurse the occasional bout of hut-fever with a book.