Swirling through 155 in search of my first meal, I ran into Karen Joyce, my POC (point of contact) here in McMurdo. She introduced me to David and uhh… Natalie? and pointed me in the direction of food. Galley is a pretty straightforward cafeteria, standard layout if you’re used to college dorms or burgeoning Silicon Valley startups. Chicken, peas and carrots, baked shells with marinara sauce, and industrial crème brulee. Food’s free (and tasty!) at USAP stations, so you just grab a tray, load it on and look for a place to sit.

Karen waved me over to her table, where Glory (from our ice flight) and some veterans were assembled. Marty, in a Hawaiian shirt, Barb, Jen and Karen exchanged stories while I listened like a good Antarctic fanboy. Karen’s in charge of IT for Crary, the science building, and her name consistently evokes the same response: “Karen? Oh yeah, she’s a trip.” With a smile.

Karen’s been doing this for years, and has an infinite supply of stories. This one’s about the lovelorn tech who tried winning his (already-attached) sweetheart’s love by bringing her pretty little rocks he’d picked up from around the base and field camps. In a disturbing imitation of the penguins of these latitudes, he’d deposit them on her desk as tokens of his affection, and a demonstration of his worth as a suitor. It didn’t work, apparently, and at the end of summer, he took the rocks in a big armful and flung them out into the snow beneath the new footbridge outside of Crary.

Karen found them scattered and decided to arrange some of them artistically on the tops of the bridge’s support posts. A little bit of informal decoration. Came out later that day, and they were gone. Okay, no problem. Put some more of them in place. Gone, too – someone was methodically removing her rocks. Glued the next batch on. Gone. The escalation continued well past mere arrangement of rocks on posts. If I understand correctly, the latest salvo was a plastic space alien figure, center-drilled and secured with a handful of three-penny nails. As of yesterday, it was still there. [correction here: I stopped by the bridge and discovered that it was in fact a green plastic frog nailed to the bridge – apologies for the error; there’s a lot going on at the moment. Green aliens must be from something else.]

If you’ve seen Encounters at the End of the World (and you should), you’ve seen Karen. She’s the woman who demonstrates, on talent night, how to take yourself along on a flight as carry-on baggage. She cuts armholes in one of the standard-issue orange duffels then contorts herself entirely into it. Sticks her arms out the side and, like a Seussian creation, walks herself across the stage on her hands. Yes, Karen’s a trip.

At some break in the conversation, I remarked how overdressed I felt. I was still wearing the Carhardt pants and bunny boots. Karen looked down and laughed. “Yup, that just *screams* ‘fingy’”. Stands for “[friendly] new guy”. At least I’m assuming the “F” stands for friendly – I tend to be optimistic about things like that.

She directed my attention to what everyone else in the galley is wearing. Jeans, some t-shirts, tennis and running shoes. Yeah, I was overdressed. Eh, no one cares. And I *am* the new guy. Friendly too.

This morning, I sauntered out in my nylon travel pants, thick socks and red tennis (and Big Red – I’m not quite ready to do without Big Red). And it’s okay. I kept the gloves in my pocket so I could work the camera. Chilly, but not too bad if I kept pulling my hands back into my sleeves when I wasn’t shooting. Pole will be a different story – as much colder than McMurdo as McMurdo is to home. That’ll be a shock to they system, no question. But here, it’s a lovely day out on the ice.

[Pics of the ice flight, by the way, are up at]

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