Friday, January 05, 2007

happy new year from antarctica!

here's a pic from this year's IceStock, which is an outdoor music festival held at mcmurdo around new year's day. along with a chili cookoff and a beard contest, it's one of the highlights of the season. people turn out to hear live music, sample chili, wear funny wigs or stilts or giant cardboard cutouts of cacti and peppers, or just to get drunk in the middle of the day.

we were supposed to get a big herbie (storm) that day, but mother nature was feeling generous and it was pretty nice out - just a little bit blowy.
because I am obviously such an arbiter of good taste and a connoisseur of facial hair, I was asked by our recreation department to be a judge at the IceStock beard-growing contest. (actually, all my girlfriends know what a weakness I have for the carhartt-and-facial-hair combo.) the contest kicked off six weeks ago with an official shaving. then the contestants tried mightily to grow some impressive facial hair, which would later be judged in five categories:

  • best mustache

  • best donegal (think leprechauns; i.e., a beard with no mustache)

  • most original

  • best overall

  • worst beard
on judgment day, about ten contestants showed up in various stages of hirsuteness. my friends matt and marty had also been asked to judge. we were all herded into the coffeehouse, where the contestants proceeded to shamelessly bribe the three of us with cans of CD (canterbury draught, the bud light of new zealand), promises of everlasting love and devotion, even a cigar. none of it had any effect on us, of course. we were not swayed from our steely single-mindedness one bit. there was a beard championship at stake, man!

here I am on stage, flanked by impressive beards right and left, and wearing the hat amber gave me for christmas.

as no contestant showed up sporting merely a mustache, we decided that the winner of that category would be the man who could run home and shave off his beard the fastest, thereby leaving him with an award-winning mustache.

the worst beard award was given to a guy who had facial hair so sparse and thin that I could have outdone him with one of my armpits.

the most original beard was given to a man who had had a beard for so long, when he shaved for the start of the contest, his own son (who also works on station) didn't recognize him. (we took the liberty of interpreting the word 'original' in the sense of 'around since the dawn of time,' not 'creative.')

and to decide on the best overall beard, we went back to the fundamentals. what is the purpose of a beard? where did the beard originate? what is the sound of one beard clapping?

and we decided that, on its most basic and integral level, facial hair is a pragmatic feature, one that is used -- for warmth, for disguise, for cushioning. and, on some particularly blessed men, for transport. of twigs, leaves, bits of food, small animals, whatever.

on that basis, we awarded 'best overall beard' to jared (above), a janitor who will never be at a loss for stir sticks. a round of stunned applause followed.

on new year's eve, delaney and I hopped a ride out to pegasus airfield, about 45 minutes outside of town on the ice shelf, with a fuelie who was driving out there to replenish the generators. we had heard that there were a few emperors hanging out near the runway, just standing around. apparently they were molting, which is so physically taxing a process the poor penguin can do little else but be miserable for a few days. which is too bad for the penguin, but makes for great photo ops.

jon dropped us off near some cargo sleds and bam - there he was. one lonely emperor penguin, who promptly shat bright green poop as soon as we came into view.

he looked like he'd been put through the indian wars, or at least some kind of masticator. there were tufts of old pinfeathers feathers sticking up out of the top of his head, giving him a rather sid vicious kind of look, and all over the top portion of his body, so it looked like he was wearing a furry vest. really, it was pretty funny. he didn't seem to care much that there were these two red-coated weirdos peering at him and taking his picture.

that was a great end to 2006.

and here are some pics I just got from one of the cooks, of me and delaney swing-dancing at the holiday party.

what this really consists of is delaney flinging me around the dance floor and dislocating most of my joints. but he's a very good dancer, and it's actually a lot of fun if I just sort of go all loosey-goosey and first make sure there are no breakable objects within a fifty-foot radius.

a friend in DC sent me a bunch of posters reading War is Not the Answer and asked if I could get some folks together to take a photo holding the posters.
here we are in front of the McMurdo Station sign. it came out a little dark, but that's okay, because we could get in trouble for taking a political picture with a piece of NSF property, and this way they can't identify us.

and finally, here are some cool shots of the first-ever C-17 airdrop over the south pole. the NSF wanted to do this as a 'proof of concept' thing where they could prove that, in case they ever needed to, they could drop pallets of food, medical supplies, back issues of Seventeen magazine, whatever, over the south pole and not kill anyone in the process.

pretty neat, huh?
more to come!