HARSH CONTINENT

Blue Collar Tales of the Wild Antarctic

an illustrated memoir by elaine parker    

PRELUDE

The crevasse yawned beneath me, scaring me like nothing ever had. How could I have been stupid enough to get myself in a mess only a FiNGy* would cook up? I'd been on The Ice* a few 24 hours, so there was no excuse, except she was my first penguin.

I had sneaked out of Mactown in an ancient pilfered pickup. My boondoggle was unplanned, so I was wearing only light Carhart bibs and jacket, the uniform of the blue collar Antarctic summer worker. Glory had found me in cavernous old the mess hall just as I was dumping my dinner tray. It was late. The DAs * were already dancing their mops in graceful arcs across the potholed linoleum.

She was excited. The night before we'd talked of penguins and how I hadn't gotten close to any all season. Glory saw them fairly often on her endless shuttles from town out to the Ice Runway in Ivan the Terra-bus. I asked her to find me the next time she saw any. I vowed I'd do whatever I needed to do to get myself out to be with them. Now, if any Icehead* ever tells you they feel ambivalent about penguins, they're lying. Those little critters are irresistible.

It was getting on towards summer's end. My evening runs out to Hut Point had sharpened my appetite for penguins. Occasionally, I had spotted the small bands of Emperors in the distance, marching across the ice towards their rookery on Cape Royds. I longed to be closer to them as I squinted through the cheap binoculars bequeathed to me by a departing winterover*. The stately birds, having completed their annual molting process, were now heading into their nesting and mating time. I was marooned at the station. We all were. Mactown* was a zoo. The icebreaker had torn a path through the ice, ushering in the long-awaited supply ship. It was docked at the Ice Pier, and was in the process of off-loading much of what would keep the station going through the long Antarctic winter. Roughnecks and sailors from ports abroad mixed with the scientists and workers as all hands dropped whatever they were doing to ferry our precious supplies into town before the ice floes married, locking our corridors down for the longest night on earth. Soon all contact with the outside world would end for seven long months. This deadline inspired an annual frenzy of activity which whipped McMurdo Station into the wild, dusty frontier town it had strained to be all season. We'd had four months to prepare for this climax. Now it was make-or-break. Twenty-four, seven. White collars, step aside. We blue collar workers were in our glory. For once, we were in charge.


* There is a Glossary of unfamiliar terms in the back of the book.

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