Shades of Gray

At Pole, the period beginning the middle of January was called The Season of Pain. Summer folks had been on station for close to three months, and were smelling the hay at the end of the season. Idle talk was all about the house they were renting in Wanaka or trekking permits they’d lined up Western Berzerkistan. Winter folks were girding themselves for the impending nine months of isolation. I remember sitting down in the galley across from Zach one morning, asking how he was doing.

“Fourteen days, seven hours. Give or take a little.”

“What?”

“Fourteen days, seven hours. Until I get to climb on a Herc and get out of here.”

[I think you can click on the map to expand it…]

With a cruise that just skims the one month marker, we don’t have a Season of Pain, but it’s clear that folks are having a hard time keeping their mind on the next few days. We’ve got roughly eight more stations and three days to cover them in a last little downward jog into the Bransfield, and then we’re back out into the Drake for our bumpy ride home. Amid the minor setbacks (trawl net has a big tear, last cast came up entirely empty) and conversation about what everyone’s doing when they get off the ship, it’s been easy to forget the stark and alien beauty surrounding us.

This guy is a couple hundred feet tall and five miles wide

The weather itself is a thing of beauty. Today it’s blowing 40 knots in blowing snow (wind chill -32). It’s nice and warm inside, but given how much windage the Palmer carries, we’ve all just gotten used to walking at a constant angle from the tilted floor. When I need to get away from my code these days, I’ve been hanging out in the Baltic with Tom when he does CTD casts, trying to help out and not get too much in the way. There’s something very grounding about leaning against a life line out the side of a ship as you lower a honking big scientific contraption down to the bottom of the sea, looking out at unthinkably cold sea of ice churning and crashing a just a few feet below you.

Helping out on the net casts is another excuse to get outside. Last night, before the weather moved in, where was a gorgeous gibbous moon setting to the north, reflecting off the water in light snow that seemed suspended in mid-air.

Patricia and Tom get the net ready while Rachel waves from Aft Control (under the spotlight)

And yesterday? Yesterday I wandered out to the bow and hung out with Elliot and Jen for a bit when we got off duty, hoping for a clear view of tiny Aspland Island (best candidate for a secret mountain fortress ever), but just watching the changing light on the clouds and water. We were a speck of red, green and yellow in an immense world painted with more shades of gray, more stunning contrasts of light and darkness than a camera could possibly capture. But yeah, you know that didn’t stop us from trying…

We woke this guy up from his nap as we crunched past him

Aspland Island would make a great secret mountain fortress. Pizza delivery would be tough…

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