Life in the field, Antarctica

December 1st, 2002

Life in the field is different from life in town in a couple of ways.

First of all there's more work. In town, people are up at 6AM, to work by 7AM, and home by 5PM. They take scheduled breaks and stop working when it's dinner time.

In town, people go to sleep in dorm rooms. They sleep in mil-issue beds in rooms warmed by generator output. There are showers. There's plumbing. There are toilets.

In town, you can't go very far without meeting someone and saying, "Hi."

In town there are washing machines. There are three bars. You can get trashed and stagger back to your room. You can buy things.

You can get hit by a truck.

It's different in the field.

In the field, you sleep in a tent. In the field you can go for days without seeing another human as long as you check in with MacOps and let them know you're still alive and happy.

In the field, there are only helicopters, airplanes, and snowmobiles. None of them will hit you.

In the field, you don't take showers. You don't bathe except to dribble cold glacier water over yourself once a week. You don't wash your clothes.

in the field, every day is a bad hair day.

In the field there is nothing to buy. Nobody to pay.

In the field, there are no bars. If you get trashed and stagger out of the jamesway, you can fall into a crevasse and die. You can fall off the glacier. You can slip on the frozen lake and crack your head open.

In the field, if you get cold, it's your job to get yourself warm. There's nobody to ask to turn up the heat.

Every single day. In the field you have to be smart. Everyone is hoping you'll be smart enough to keep from doing something so stupid it gets people in trouble, or killed. They're counting on it.

In the field you carry a radio whenever you go somewhere you can't be seen by someone else.

In the field, when you meet people you like, you like them a lot. A real lot.

Because in the field everyone knows you're just one storm away from dead. You're one step away from crippled. You're depending on each other for food. The person you smile at will bring you the water that saves your life. And when you depend on people that way, you like them.

I don't know why. Maybe it's genetic.

Today I was sitting at this computer, writing a node, thinking of how lonely I was.

The phone rang. Yes. There is a phone in this tiny frozen tent. And it rang.

And it was a crank phone call. A crank Antarctic phone call. My first. But I didn't know it at the time.

In Antarctica, field people will play naked horseshoes for laughs. Field people will jump into frozen lakes. People will drink until they forget their names and then remember to puke into a registered USAP receptacle so the environment remains unpolluted.

The call had me going for a couple of minutes, until I recognized the voice over the scratchy radio line.

We laughed for a while. Then my friend said:

"We're thinking of you out there. Everything okay?"

I said it was.

Now, anyway.

And so now I have playing naked horseshoes on my agenda.