Elysian Fields

November 25th, 2001

"What do you want for that shirt?"
- Jenn the fire fighter, admiring my t-shirt that says 'One by one the penguins steal my sanity'

I have not tried to grow a beard since I was 22. Back then, the fur on my face could barely be mistaken for testosterone driven growth. It was more like the fuzz on newly hatched chickens.

My face hasn't been graced by a razor since I left California almost two weeks ago. Some people like this, I suppose, because I see people with beards everywhere. As for me, I'm approaching the point where having the skin flayed from my face might be an acceptable alternative to the infernal itching. What did Scott and Shackelon do in cases like this? Maybe they were too busy trying to figure out where to get seal blubber to think about shaving.

Speaking of seal blubber, I have seen exactly two living non-human creatures since I have been here. They have both been of the variety called Skua.

A Skua is a sea-gull of a creature about the size of a beagle. The ones I saw had 4-foot wingspans. Contrary to expectations, they did not swoop out of the sky and try to peck out my eyeballs. Rather, they were surrounded by maniacal camera fanatics and shot on film. As I had my telephoto lens I didn't have to get very close, nor did I want to get close enough to get in trouble with the Antarctic powers-that-be. I was advised upon entry to the continent that agitating a bird was against the Antarctic Treaty signed by the president o'the US, and the base commander had some limited federal authority that included kicking me off the continent and/or locking me up until it was convenient for them to do so.

I realize there are much better pictures of Skuas on the net. This is the only one I managed to pull off with the digital camera before he took off. What you can't tell from this is the scale of the animal. His head would reach nearly 1/2 way up my shinbone should I stand next to him/her. As this is the only wildlife I'm likely to see while I'm here I figured it was worth the bytes to show you. Its skua friend had laid claim to a garbage container labeled "Food Waste", of which I'm sure it was full. It's probably against the Antarctic treaty to disturb perched skuas. I didn't notice this morning but I suspect it's either still sitting on that garbage container or has flown off with it to its little skua village.

Which reminds me that there are no children here. Were there children, I'm certain they'd all be carried off and eaten by skuas.

Every night I keep having to fight the temptation to run back to my dorm room and drop off my sunglasses and pick up an extra coat. Every time I open the door after the last call at the coffee shop at 11PM I walk outside without my sunglasses on, expecting to see night and stars. Of course, it's always 10 in the morning here. The sun just rotates overhead in a circle and it's as bright and sunny at midnight as it is any other time of the day.

When I woke up this morning I leaned toward the window and pulled back the curtains. This is what I saw

When I went to bed last night I saw exactly the same thing. For all of you who pay extra for the ocean view room, this sight may seem a little uninteresting. It's more like Mars than Bora Bora. But it's plenty amazing to some folks. Pretty wonderful to me.

What you're seeing here is Scott's hut in the lower right, Vince's cross atop the little hillock, and the Royal Society range in the background. There's also a mighty large glacier pouring from between the mountains into the McMurdo sound and a person standing on the hill with Vince's cross. A lot of people go up there and just stand for a while. It's kind of like being in a church, or standing near a consecrated site. I'm not sure what you'd think if you were standing there, but what I thought was that life was great. How lucky I was to be standing where so few people could ever hope to go. I wondered why me; why did I get to go and not so many others who want to.

I was listening to music at the time. I had my CD player in my pocket and those little bud phones plugged into my ears. I was listening to the soundtrack from the movie "Gladiator"--you know--that music from the scene at the end where he dies and goes to the Elysian fields.