I’ve been at Mawson for a month, during which time we’ve got to 24 hour sunlight – the photo above was the last sunset. I’m hoping not to count days and weeks until I leave again, but it’s hard to avoid. The four month fellowship, which felt so long before I left home, feels surprisingly short here, especially now I know how much of it is taken up with ship-time. The weeks are flying past and the ship returns at the end of January. Jane and I will be shuttled across to it in short order, to free up bedrooms for the incoming winter team who’ll be working to unload cargo and fuel for about a week.
But that’s a way off still, and now it’s the weekend, and the sun’s streaming in my bedroom window I’m just back from walking on the ice.
Although people are rostered to work Saturday mornings, once that’s done the weekends are for jollies (trips off station by Hagglunds or quad bike), games, movies, walks, special events, rock climbing, spa, catch-and kill-feeding (helping yourself from the substantial leftovers in the fridge or subsisting on cereal and toast so the hard working chef can have a day off). It’s also much-needed down time, to lay low and chill out.
Weekend activities that I’ve been part of so far: Pictionary, Cranium (which is a mix of Pictionary, Charades and play dough), cards, pool and killer darts. Formal dinner last night with wine, linen table cloths, multi-courses of delicious food and everyone unrecognisable in fresh, ironed shirts. Last week there was a Mexican fancy dress party (with outdoor bath) in the old station buildings – no stinting on the costumes, sourced from the vast array of dressups hiding in the cellar of the Red Shed.
And then there’s weekend adventures, even for those of us not yet authorised to go out ourselves. For these we rely heavily on Mark, our good natured Field Training Officer, who must accompany any untrained people when they leave the station.
We travel by Hagg way up onto the plateau between three mountain ranges, drilling holes and setting cane lines to mark the safe routes. Mark drives the Hagg, navigating to the waypoints with a GPS and calculating how many canes are needed along the route. We rookies become a well-oiled machine, leaping out of the Hagg one side at a time (otherwise the wind rips through the vehicle), scratching in our cleats over the blue ice to the back door, getting out the ice drill. Amy drills the holes, adding an extension to reach down a couple of metres. Jane gets out the bamboo cane and sets it in the hole (a deep and beautifully blue well going down into the ice). We shove the ice shavings back into the hole and I pour in a few glugs of water, which will freeze the cane in place. Everything returns to the back of the Hagg, we jump inside again, proceed three hundred metres, repeat. Each time, standing and looking around at ice stretching to the horizons, rocky mountains, and frozen sea dotted with icebergs in the distance, under the flat white polar light. I can’t express how joyful this day made me.
Another weekend: A two-Hagg run across the sea ice to Bechervaise Island, eight of us shuttling containers of food and water to last two penguin researchers the six weeks they’ll spend living out there, unable to return to station once the sea ice melts. Enough time to scramble around the island and explore, and check out the male Adelie penguins, sitting patiently on the eggs in their rocky nests, having a two week fast until the females return from foraging and the pairs switch over. The penguin researchers have the world’s best cubby houses – a melon hut, a shipping container, and two googies which look just like they’ve landed from outer space. I wanted nothing more than to spend six weeks living in a googie too – staring out at the icebergs, surrounded by penguins hatching their chicks.
Today: the ever-patient Mark guides us on a 2 hour walk up the ice plateau behind the station. It’s warm and sunny and beneath our feet slender crevasses give us a peek into the deep blue heart of the ice. We drill holes and put in a few more canes, which gives us a sense of purpose. By the end of next week I’ll be able to do this walk alone or with others and I’m imagining it will replace the gym as the daily exercise.
For the rest of today – a movie later on, and now working on the Kris Kringle. This is a major station project – everyone draws someone else out of the hat, and the challenge is to make the gift by hand, right here at Mawson. This is easier for some people – carpenters, say – than others (such as… writers). A visit to the carpenters’ workshop and the mechanics’ shed the other night showed me the incredible lengths to which people will go to make something special.
The pressure’s on and I must get cracking. Over and out from Mawson.