Thursday, April 29, 2010

Here is our lovely greenhouse; it's a bit drab and weather-worn on the outside, but instead is a pure delight for the senses. Especially if you've been surrounded by snow and ice for eight months. Fleet ops delivers water to an inside tank twice a week, and between humidifiers and leaf transpiration that's used to keep the greenhouse humidity around 20% most days. Outside is 10% or less, so it feels like a tropical rainforest when you step inside. And there's LIGHT! 17 hours a day of bright full-spectrum lighting. Everything is hydroponic and the plants grow quite fast. I volunteer on sundays, balancing nutrients in the tanks, pruning, and transplanting, and there's very noticeable growth every week.
The plants are really sensitive to low water levels and nutrient/pH disruption. All this has to be measured and adusted every single day. In the Antarctic climate evaporation is fast and a single day of imbalance will cause a whole row of tomatos ( carefully nurtured for months) to wilt and nearly die... The plants are less sensitive to temperature and humidity fluctuations, which occur depending on weather conditions outside. The greenhouse is about 75 degrees most of the time, but frost builds up in most of the corners. Myself and another firefighter come in on Sundays so the greenhouse manager can have a day off. I've never dealt with hydroponics before, so it's a great experience.
Food production was a bit delayed since the building is almost condemnable and had to be shored up at the beginning of the season. But in the past couple weeks we've had our first ripe tomatos, cucumbers, and mixed salad greens. We also grow assorted herbs and edible flowers including mint, thyme, lemon basil, coriander, nasturtiums, and violas. Finally, there are some hot peppers which should come into bloom soon.
After the work's done, it's time to lounge in the hammock with a good book...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

SAR training- roped glacier travel and abseiling down onto a collapsed snow bridge inside a crevasse. Silver City icefall. Ross Island, Antarctica

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

4 more days of sunlight!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Middle Eastern story: the frog and the scorpion

The scorpion, wishing to cross the Nile, begged the frog to ferry him across on his back.
The frog refused.
"No, he said, when we are mid-stream you will sting me, and I will drown."
"That is illogical," the scorpion said, "If I sting you, we will both drown."
So the frog agreed and the scorpion climbed on his back. Halfway across, the scorpion stung him.
"I told you so," screamed the dying frog, "You've killed us both. What is the logic in that?"
"Who thinks of logic?" said the drowning scorpion. "This is the Middle East."

- from War Journal, Richard Engel

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Our New Ambo

After a few weeks of searching for necessary maintenance materials and antennae mounts, our new ambulances are in service and the old are up in the graveyard. Not bad, though Wheeled Coach made a couple entertaining mistakes: wooden box in cab makes it impossible to shift truck into 4-Low
Mounts for hanging the dozens of army stretchers stored at McMurdo in readiness for an MCI are improperly placed.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The sea is calm tonight
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams, and is gone; the cliffs of England stand
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay

Come to the window, sweet is the night air!
Only from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched sand
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles, which the waves draw back and fling,
At their return, upon the high shore
Begin, and cease, and then again begin
With tremulous cadence slow and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in this sound a thought
Hearing it by this distant Northern sea

The Sea of Faith
was once too at the full and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled
Now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! For, the world which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain
And here we stand as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Luxuriating in the easy life of McMurdo and starting in on the 4th book of the month: "The Dream Palace of the Arabs" by Fouad Ajami. 'how a generation of Arab intellectuals tried to introduce cultural renewals in their homelands through the forces of modernity and secularism. Ultimately, they come to face disappointment, exile, and, on occasion, death.' Fouad, an excellent storyteller, relates the struggles and informative failures of several would-be Arab modernizers against the backdrop of 20th-century events in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and Egypt. Hope passages of Arab poetry will not get me on some watch list.

"The Bridge" by Khalil Hawi. Hawi was a Christian Lebanese poet who wrote from WWII until his suicide during the Israeli invasion of 1982. Here he mourns the 'sickness of the East' (failure of the once enlightened and advanced Arab world to modernize, and its eclipse by the Western world) and at the same time retains hope for future generations.

They cross the bridge blithely in the morning
My ribs are stretched out as a firm bridge for them
From the caves of the East, from the swamps of the East,
To the New East
My ribs are stretched out as a firm bridge for them.
They will go and you will remain
Empty-handed, crucified, lonely
In the snowy nights while the horizon is ashes
Of fire, and the bread is dust;
You will remain with frozen tears on a sleepless night
The mail will come to you in the morning:
The news page... How often you will ruminate its contents,
Scrutinize it... Reread it!
They will go and you will remain
Empty-handed, crucified, lonely...

From Hawi's Cambride dissertation on his homeland and countrymen:

"'The free air of the Mountain, and the dignity of the Mountain itself, leave their impression on their spirit and physique, while a primitive kind of ideal morality is manifested in their conduct. Nevertheless, after their youth is over, the repeated shocks and frustrations they are fated to receive from the evils inherent in their surroundings, the realization of the tragedies and futilities of the history of their country, and the practical wisdom which their parents try to teach them, itself learned from frustrations and the futility of idealism, all these combine to keep them from belief in any great cause such as public welfare or the advancement of the nation. Petty egoism and indiscriminate opportunism seem indispensible qualities if they are to adapt themselves to their environment, and become capable of struggling with its political, social , and economic conditions. Yet the good qualities developed in their youth do not disappear entirely from their mature character, even though these play no essential part in directing their conduct. Petty feuds, intrigues, and lack of integrity are accepted as normal, while dignity, frankness, and open-heartedness are nothing more than an apparent aim, a sheild and a mask."

Thursday, April 1, 2010

"Rimbaud knew better than to save any of himself for the grave; he spent every resource he had in this world down to the last penny- burned money, health, friends, family, sanity as so much fuel for the fire- so when Death came to take him away He got nothing..."
"... our lives end up revolving around Things, as if happiness is to be found in possessions rather than in free actions and pursuits. Those who have wealth have it because they spent a lot of time and energy figuring out how to get it from other people. Those who have very little have to spend most of their lives working to get what they need to survive, and all they have as consolation for their lives of hard labor and poverty are the few things they are able to buy... members of the middle class... have been bombarded from birth with advertisements and other propaganda proclaiming that happiness, youth, meaning, and everything else in life are to be found in possessions and status symbols. They learn to spend their lives working hard to collect these, rather than taking advantage of whatever chances they might seek to have adventure and pleasure. "

"There is no place for the passionate, romantic lover in today's world, business or private- for he can see it might be more worthwhile to hitchhike to Alaska (or sit in the park and watch the clouds sail by) with his sweetheart than study for his calculus exam or sell real estate... and if he decides that it is, he will have the courage to do it rather than be tormented by unsatisfied longing. He knows that breaking into a cemetary and making love under the stars will make for a more memorable night than watching television ever could. So love poses a threat to our consumer-driven economy, which depends upon consumption of largely useless and labor that this consumption necessitates to perpetuate itself."

-from a book with a lot of crazy ideas (like communism and anarchism) and a couple good ones (pointing out fixation on consumption over experiences). Unfortunately its frequent wanders down extremist paths of thought prevents it from being a good read overall.