A Texas voice
I know it is at the halfway point because of an Excel program that I pulled off our common Intranet computer drive. It is known as the "doughnut of misery" and is apparently popular with those in the military who are deployed overseas.
The user enters the date arrived and the expected date of departure. The program calculates what percentage of your time that you have "served" and reflects it in a doughnut graphic, one color for time spent and one for time remaining.
To top it off, the time left is displayed in weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds. It tells me that there are some 6,580,683 seconds until I get home. Give or take.
Yes, people here are beginning to talk about the end of the season, which means different things to different people.
Most folks have plans to do something special on the way home. Once the military airplane carries us off the Ice to Christchurch, New Zealand, our employer will fly us to Auckland, Los Angeles and on to our home airport, unless you want to do something different.
Many are planning a trip to Australia, others to Hawaii. Several go to Asia; I know one couple talking about riding trains across China and Russia. Some are headed to Africa and South America. By essentially trading in their flights home, they make side trips at a greatly reduced rate. I will be one of a large number who will opt simply to spend extra time in New Zealand. Our visas are good until about July, but I won't likely be staying any more than a week. I'm anxious to get home, but I cannot pass up the opportunity to see part of New Zealand when it's available free of air fare.
Now comes the marking of time, such as checking the doughnut regularly.
One guy told me that his secret was to create checkpoints. It's less than three weeks to Christmas, followed a week later by New Year's. January means making travel plans for the trip home. Late January or early February marks the annual arrival of the icebreaker and the supply vessel, a shipload of materials designed to keep McMurdo Station and Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in business for another year. It's a big deal.
By the time the vessel is off-loaded, the sun will be sinking low in the sky again, and the days will be getting colder. Soon, the sun will set again, even if for just a few minutes. By then, however, most of us should be gone, headed home.
Don't misunderstand. It's not that most people are miserable, myself included. But most of the fun things have been done by now, and there are not many exciting things to look forward to. Add to that the fact that many of the grantees - the scientists, etc. - have fulfilled their partial season stays and have gone home to make room for others. Thanksgiving has passed and Christmas is coming. If there will be strains in long-distance relationships, those might be showing by now.
They're not miserable, but some of the luster has worn off. It's natural.
As for me, it's mostly still fun. I miss my family, but that's been the case since the beginning. I am looking forward to a special trip in a couple of weeks, though. I'm scheduled to spend three nights at the South Pole while working on some stories about research there. That was the one thing on my wish list when I came down. I was supposed to go at the end of October but the trip was canceled. Just as well: Temperatures then were around 60 degrees below zero. By the time I get there, just before Christmas, temperatures will likely be up to around 20 below.
Then I'll come back for the holidays, keeping one eye on my doughnut of misery, the other on home.
Steve Martaindale is a self-syndicated columnist spending the Antarctic summer working on the ice continent. Write him at penmanmailsteve@ yahoo.com.