When I was in McMurdo, many people told me "enjoy the view here while you can, it's nothing but flat white when you get to Pole." I've found that to be half true. I mean, I definitely did enjoy the view while I was in McMurdo (being from the Midwest, mountains are rare, elusive creatures). But it's not particularly flat, nor particularly white here. Sure, there's no elevation change and the only things on the horizon are the station and the occasional telescope. But the scenery here is captivating. Everything outside is varying shades of blue, turning to almost-white-but-really-just-very-faint-blue. And the ground has texture. Over lunch last Wednesday, I was discussing it with Bill, one of the electricians here. "It's sort of like the ocean on a choppy day," he said, "but frozen. And then smoothed out a bit with a dusting of snow." I think that's a wonderful way to put it. A frozen ocean, patterned out as far as you can see, never repeating.
Of course, there's the station. A gigantic monument to modern engineering that's probably the closest thing to living on a space station. The whole thing is elevated and somewhat wing-shaped to funnel the wind and scour snow out from underneath to avoid the fate of the last station. The underside of the station is icy and free of drifts, so it works. But you can't cheat fine snow and constant wind. If you disrupt its path across the endless polar plateau, it will build up.
This snow drift lives outside what we refer to as "the beer can," a large metal cylinder that houses a staircase running from the elevated station down under the ice to the utility tunnels and support arches. If you take the stairs down, you can see the top of this drift as you pass the first floor. At ground level, it's like the great wall of windswept nothing. Or the world's worst sledding hill. Your choice.
Back in the beer can, it's a lot more steps down to the arches. And a lot more steps up to the station. In fact, there are 92 steps in the beer can (I know not because I counted, but because someone numbered them). It can be a tedious affair walking up and down and up and down every day, especially when you've just arrived here and everything is exhausting because you're standing on top of two miles of ice and there's not a whole lot of oxygen to go around. Right at the first floor, someone left this little piece of encouragement. I laugh every time I see it, which is starting to weird out some of my co-workers a bit.
At the bottom of the beer can is a tunnel that connects three large arches. The arches contain the power plant, cold storage, and the garage where I work. I think they may have been at ground level at one point, but they're about 50 feet below ground now. It's always cold down here, but it's never windy. Despite the lack of wind, I have learned that normal pants and a hoodie is not an acceptable wardrobe for walking to work.
Pole is home to an amazing array of people who all think it's a great idea to live in a place that actively tries to kill all life. And they all have amazing stories, and fascinating things to share. I can sit in a lounge for hours just listening. I feel energized by the sunlight streaming in through the windows, and I check my watch and see it's almost midnight. It's a weird continent, and one I love dearly.