It’s Monday, and that means House Mouse duties for me.
There are no comprehensive janitorial service at the South Pole like you might be used to seeing in public buildings in other locations. Quite frankly, it’s just too expensive to keep a large, dedicated janitorial staff on board here. So, the bathrooms and other commons areas are cleaned by the station residents on a rotating basis. When it’s your turn to pitch in with these cleaning tasks, you’re the House Mouse.
The House Mouse empties trash cans and recycling barrels (which outnumber trash cans by nearly an order of magnitude), cleans the bathroom(s) on their berth floor, and generally tidies up. Since this gets done every day, it isn’t a huge chore. The only bathroom on our floor of the berth is the women’s bathroom, so at 16:00 local time today, I found myself cleaning the women’s bathroom. This is all taken rather matter-of-factly by most station residents as women are often seen cleaning the men’s bathrooms. The station managers go out of their way to make the House Mouse system work even though their most serious disciplinary measure for failing your House Mouse duties is public shaming. They make sure that each janitorial closet has a good supply of janitorial supplies, paper products, and other necessary items.
Tonight at dinner I learned that McMurdo will soon lose their dedicated janitorial staff and adopt the House Mouse system as a cost savings measure. Their admin folks called up the South Pole folks recently to ask about “that Mouse system.”
I spent most of the day working out at the ICL as we started to move in earnest towards completing one of our major goals. The ICL is about a mile or so from the Elevated Station, so it’s a hike out there and back when the wind is blowing in your face. Fortunately, I managed to catch a ride in the shuttle van once, and on a sled towed behind a snowmobile twice. The van is okay. It’s a regular Ford fan with big tires on it driven by one of the General Assistants (GAs). The snowmobiles are more fun, even though they’re much colder. The wind chill is usually south of -35°F and adding twenty or more miles per hour of wind due to the snowmobile can make it downright frosty in a hurry. However, it seems like a better connection to the outdoors to have the wind and a plume of snow in your face than to be sitting on a seat in the back of a big red van.
The skiway, where the LC-130s and Twin Otters land, lies between the Elevated Station, ICL, the IceCube Drill camp, and several other outbuildings that house science projects. So, I cross the skiway several times a day going to work, and back to the Station for meals and the like. Of course, the Powers That Be (PTB) aren’t particularly interested in seeing pedestrians run down by a landing Hercules, so they have beacons that warn pedestrians and vehicles not to encroach upon the skiway when it is in use. On my way back to work this afternoon a plane was landing, so the beacons were on. Next thing you know, there’s the Antarctic equivalent of a traffic jam (two snowmobiles, one front-end loader, and one crawler) as we wait for the plane to finish landing.
It’s a big night for me. Shower night. Here at the Pole, where there are few substances more dear than water, showers are limited to two two-minute showers per week. It’s all on the honor system, but again, public shaming is a potent weapon to ensure compliance and from what I’ve seen and heard there are few violators. Suffice it to say that I’m a bit pungent today since I last took a shower four days ago.
A number of Christmas and Hanukkah decorations appeared around the station. That’s all well and good, but it’s hard for me to get into the Christmas spirit this year. No baking. No tree of our own. No dark nights and short days. It just doesn’t feel right.
On my way back to the Station tonight after putting in a few more hours at the ICL, I was treated to an interesting meteorological display. A pair of sundogs flanked the sun while 3/4 of a full rainbow was visible. The picture shows just one of the sundogs. Photographing a rainbow that large was a task just a bit beyond my skill and my equipment.