White All Over

Pat’s Peak, which is usually all dark, bare rock, shrouded in new snow. The orange box in the foreground is our survival cache, containing all essentials needed in the event that our hut burns down or blows away.

We spent Christmas day measuring penguin chicks and then the snow came – big, fluffy flakes whose highly structured geometry melts away instantly upon impact with clothes or skin, making them difficult to examine closely. The flakes hung and swirled nearly massless in the still air. It snowed like that for the whole next day, making field work nearly impossible. Amélie and Valère went out to retrieve some transmitters, but other than that the heavy snow barred any band searching (when the penguins are covered in snow the silver bands are hard to see) or attaching instruments (we use tape to attach them to the feathers and it loses its sticky properties when wet, leading to the loss of a $3,000 transmitter). Grant went skiing, disappearing into the fog bank above the hut with his skis and skins in the fresh, deep snow. Ian took a ride on the Crozier Cruiser, a contraption not unlike a snowboard but far more splintery than your standard ski slope gear. I tried sledding in a yellow bin large enough to hold a human, but it sank in the snow and didn’t slide an inch. Frozen seal blubber runners would have helped, but I doubt the bin is sleek enough for the job even if outfitted with such polar gear (not to mention the difficulty in obtaining the blubber, which, contrary to popular belief, is not easy to come by in Antarctica, despite the abundance of obliviously sleeping seals).

Today is windy, as often happens immediately after a heavy snow, leaving us with a small window of opportunity for skiing or sledding. The snow is blowing in huge billowing clouds and snow devils heading straight north and into the dark sea, where it instantly ceases to be snow and contributes ever so minutely to our rising seas. This is the second storm of the season, giving us a much needed break after nearly a full month without a day off.

Christmas eve was rather eventful as far as Cape Crozier goes. My stepmom Deborah and cousin Ben sent us a very large chunk of fresh Parmigiano Reggiano, which arrived in a well-concealed package unbeknownst to everyone else in the hut. I uncovered it on the evening of the 24th, just before dinner, and among many squeals of joy and amazement we quickly proceeded to devour ½ of it. I used some more to make risotto with Lisa’s dried morels and saffron that I brought from home. Wow. I find the sight of fresh Parmigiano in a place where most of the food that we see is either frozen or canned (or both) is incongruous and exciting to such a large degree that I’m sure some people would conclude that I have lost my mind.

We received many other great packages from friends and family, most of them involving very good dark chocolate, warm socks, teas, and various other tasty treats. Thank you all!