Sunday, August 27, 2006

was this summer a dream?

in my dream, I spent the summer surrounded by friends and family, enjoying the sunshine, and riding my bicycle to work. I went camping, learned to rock climb, watched netflix DVDs, and ran in a race for breast cancer research. in my dream, I was not wearing long underwear and could eat salads and fresh fruit any time I wanted. I had a cell phone, a subaru station wagon and open-toed sandals.

yesterday I arrived at mcmurdo station after six and a half months away, and it was if I had never left. many of the faces were familiar. the buildings were shrouded in a dawn half-darkness, but they were all in the same places. the food tastes the same. the feeling of constant thirst, static cling and paper-dry skin is the same.

I'm not sure I ever left.

my name is cindy. I am the senior administrative coordinator at mcmurdo station for the 2006-2007 mainbody (summer) season. my office will be located in the 'chalet,' the administrative building on station that houses the NSF representative and station manager's offices. my job is to support the station manager and to coordinate the diverse aspects of the united states antarctic program that work together to achieve our mission of supporting science on the continent, to make sure that everyone plays together nicely and doesn't run with scissors, especially while wearing down parkas, because scissors can do a lot of damage to a garment filled with goose feathers. I wear pink snow boots and like to knit things for people.

but if I did leave, and the dream was reality, this is what I did over the summer:

I traveled in new zealand for two and a half weeks after leaving the ice on february 27. alone and with friends, I explored what must surely be god's own country -- vast landscapes of white-capped mountain ranges, roaring rivers, surf-carved coastlines, pristine blue glacial lakes, exotic birds and animals, and charming and laid-back people. I hiked the banks peninsula track alone, a35-kilometer trail that winds along the rugged coast near akaroa, a quaint french/british settlement. my dear friend belinda flew down from sydney and we drove all over the south island, gasping as each new bend in the road revealed a new and unbelievably gorgeous vista. after several hours of such surprises, we had effectively OD'd on natural beauty and simply resorted to grunting our approval, or sometimes just pulling over and taking a photo. I even walked on a glacier for the first time (the irony! five months in antarctica and my first glacier experience was in new zealand!).

you can see the pictures at

I flew on to three weeks in hawaii to visit my family. hawaii was enduring a record 42 straight days of rain, and I felt more chilled to the bone there in the clammy wet than I ever had in antarctica. carpet felt damp to the touch and laundry had to be put into the dryer instead of hung outside. the dogs languished miserably in their kennel and there were deadly floods on the outer islands. in spite of the weather, however, it was stupendous to see my parents, sister, brother-in-law and niece, and the time in hawaii was just what I had needed after being away from toddlers, old people, pets, relative humidity and lots and lots of home-cooked meals for half a year. my niece Tate, of course, is the smartest, coolest, most beautiful and mature two-year-old in the whole world (see photo left of her swimming with auntie cindy).

while there, I attended a first-birthday party for my young cousin Kawai. (her hawaiian name is much longer than that -- it means something like 'the waters of life and the fire of the spirit, etc. etc.' but they just call her Kawai.) the first birthday is a big deal in hawaii. back in the old plantation days, child mortality was depressingly high, and so the fact that a child survived its first year was cause for much celebration. these days, it's just a good excuse for a big party. Kawai's parents pulled out all the stops and we were treated to live hawaiian entertainment (singing and hula), ono hawaiian food, and tons of activities for the kids -- a clown, balloon animals, pony rides and an inflatable jumping castle-thingy. at one point I looked around under the tent and saw nothing but people eating good food, relatives and friends greeting and hugging one another, and kids shrieking with joy, and I realized that this was about as real a hawaii as one could hope to experience.

the next day, my parents' church held a baptism at ali'i beach. they do these every so often in order to baptize several candidates at once. they used to hold them in a baptistry at the church, but I much prefer them at the beach -- again, a good excuse for bringing food and making it into a party. after church that morning, we all drove out to ali'i and gorged ourselves on korean grilled chicken, fried rice, zippy's chili, spam musubi, and fried noodles and then waddled over to the water. the pastor walked out into the surf and one by one, each candidate waded out to join him. he spoke a few words and then, with the help of an assistant, dunked each one. everyone clapped, even some people who just happened to be sitting around sunbathing. and even though I rarely feel evangelical these days, and hardly ever baptist, it was really great to be there.

following that too-short sojourn to hawaii, I flew back to seattle. the organization I had worked for prior to antarctica had a temporary position open -- the assistant for one of the smaller programs was taking four months' family leave over the summer -- so I snatched up the chance to work for them again. you can read about the program, and the organization it belongs to, here:

[ the foundation's mission is, hands down, the most meaningful work with which I have ever been involved. I encourage you to read about the amazing things they're doing both in the united states and in the developing world. ]

by far the most important movie I saw this summer, and perhaps ever, is al gore's documentary on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth. if you haven't seen this yet, go out and do so right away. you can read more about it here: you'll be humbled, inspired, and challenged. do it for the kids. and yes, antarctica is featured in the film.

my cockatiel, boba fett, is still living with my friends christy and eli, who sold their home in seattle and moved to bellingham last december, near the canadian border. boba fett is happily eating organic produce from their garden, taking showers with eli, getting outside in her birdcage on sunny days, and playing with her birdie friends (christy and eli have about seven birds of their own).

on one of my visits to bellingham to visit, christy and I were taking a walk along the beach. some people were standing on the boardwalk, all seeming to be looking at something. as we got closer we realized they were watching a seagull -- an ordinary seagull in the very extraordinary process of eating a large starfish whole. two of the unlucky starfish's legs were already deep in the bird's gullet and the other three were sticking out like chicken fingers. the bird just stood there looking at us, and we at the bird, and for a while nothing happened. christy was wondering if perhaps it was stuck, or deciding whether to pursue its ghastly meal further. I opined that the gull was way past the point of no return. we waited and watched.

then suddenly the gull tilted its head back and started to gulp. with each gulp gulp gulp christy and I screamed. it seemed physically impossible that this was happening, and I fervently wished that I had brought my video camera, because this was one of those things that could bring instant fame on YouTube or America's Grossest Animal Videos or some such venue.

anyway, after half a dozen gulps, the starfish had disappeared, and the gull's neck was considerably larger around than its head. then the gull did a little belly-dance move where it gyrated its head from side to side a couple of times, and the neck went back to normal size, and the gull flew away.

it's good to be back...or just awake again. more postings to come.

(formerly shuttle) cindy