All warthogs are from hell

November 28th, 2002

Location: Lake Hoare hut, Thanksgiving morning, 2002.

Happy Thanksgiving

How much do you hate Staying Alive, by the Bee Gees?

How many times can you listen to Barry Manilow sing Copacabana before you burst int a wild rage and burn everything in sight?

In Antarctica, that's the music you listen to on Thanksgiving. In fact, that's general celebratory sonic fare.

I'm up at 6:30. It's a non-work day here, but the scientists can't stand the silence. They get on the computers and e-mail their universities. They tear out maps and start planning tomorrow's hikes.

Meanwhile, a twenty-two pound turkey is in the oven. Last night, the camp manager and a couple of the senior guys made pies. Blueberry. Apple. Hut smells like everyone's home on Thanksgiving morning

Outside is a wall of dirt, ten-thousand feet high. Outside is the face of a glacier, 100 feet high. A frozen lake of blue water.

The limno team calls in from Lake Fryxell. It's Christine. She notifies us via the VHF her team is heading out over the glacier, eight miles over solid ice. They'll be here by noon. They're bringing a couple of bottles of wine, some lettuce for the salad, and a couple of extra yams.

Someone pops in a Lenny Kravitz CD. The manager makes a motion with her fingers. We think she wants us to turn it down.

No--we're stupid. She wants us to turn it up.

The divers come in from the dive hut. Through a two-foot hole in the thirty foot ice covering, one-hundred feet down in pitch black they've harvested some life forms never seen before. Some kind of moss.

The assistant camp manager makes them some Greenland coffee. A formula she learned while serving with the Air Force in Thule. Coffee, Bushmills, Gran Mariner, Kahlua, whipped cream.

Warm you up. Buzz you good. Stay awake to enjoy it--is what she says.

We're coloring place mats. Tracing our hands and drawing turkeys with the outline like we did in fourth grade.

Someone puts on the Bee Gees CD. Seventies music. Antarctic tradition.

A helo pulls up outside, buzzing the building before setting down to land. It's Scotty again. He's delivering the Antarctic Cod for our dinner--and no--he won't stay. He has a couple of missions to run before he gets the chance for a break, but he promises to stop before the end of his day.

The rotors on the two-twelve wind up and he takes off.

Antarctic Cod is a big, meaty, sort of oily fish like shark only more so. Extremely tasty when it's fresh. Forget it has antifreeze for blood.

Our camp manager marinates it in balsamic vinegar and garlic for a couple of hours, then barbeques it on the Weber outside.

The limno team shows. After their four-hour hike, they change into their party clothes and things get festive. Cameras start flashing. Video. Handing out glasses of wine. Instant, impromptu family.

Someone hands out the wigs and boas. I've got on my summery flowered shirt.

Soon, dinner is served and we line up, cafeteria style, to fill our plates. Smells, tastes like home in the U.S. Our Kiwi team members are amused at the custom, but okay with the eating.

As opposed to always, where we all start eating upon sitting, everyone waits till everyone is seated. Then we toast ourselves. To us.

Table conversation is about our families at home. What we work on. What we did when we were kids. Wine flows. More food than an army could eat.

We take pictures, tell jokes. Before anyone realizes, we hear a helo in the distance and it's time for the limno team to go home. When the helo lands we invite them in for a slice of pie. They shut down the engines and join us for a half an hour, regailing us with flying stories until their schedule gets tight.

The limno guys pick up and leave. Give a perfunctory goodbye--and leave with the pilots. Nobody likes to say goodbye in Antarctica.

With the helo turbine winding up outside a couple of the scientists go back to their e-mail.

One starts laughing. Someone has called his advisor the evil warthog from hell in print, and the laughing stops when he realizes the advisor will be out here next week.

Tonight it's Motown. Coffee. We'll be playing Scrabble. Couple of Antarctic games.

(pictures to follow)