Thursday, December 23, 2010

CTAM: Central Trans-Antarctic Mountains

CTAM Camp from above!

I spent last week at the CTAM camp. CTAM stands for Central Trans-Antarctic Mountains. It is a beautiful location with mountains all around, about an hour and half away from McMurdo on an LC-130. It is basically one of the most beautiful airports in the world, with two Bell 212 Helicopters, and a Twin Otter airplane all stationed there. During the day, it is a constant influx and outflux of aircraft and between the three aircraft, LC-130 flights in and out during the week, McMurdo communications and field party groups originating from CTAM, there is lots of traffic on the VHF radios, the HF radios and the sat phones.

The two Bell 212 helicopters. I love helicopters!

We had beautiful weather the entire week and I skied almost every day on the aircraft ski-way. I would put on my skate skiing boots in the morning and ski around camp from tent to tent as a faster way to get around, all thanks to my friend Jay's excellent grooming.

Tent City. Because the sun never sets, tents become greenhouses often 65 degrees F!

My first duty was to take the HF tower down and reconfigure the antenna to reduce the noise that was coming from generator. We ended up moving it farther away from camp and changing the antenna type, which seemed to do the trick.

My shadow form up on the tower.


Once the tower was done and the HF (High Frequency - long range) antennas was figured out, it was time to go flying! We had two repeaters to put up (one to communicate with the aircraft and the other to communicate with field camps. So out to the mountains we went!

Mt. Falla, where we put up a relay to retransmit a signal to and from a repeater.

The relay and helo on the top of Mt. Falla. -25C above 11,000 feet!

The equipment had good enough lines of sight so that towers weren't necessary, just little tripods that could see into the valley. It was fun to be on a mountain top, in the cold and in the relatively thin air. To get to the far peak we needed the repeaters on (Mt. Kinsey), we had to fly over the Beardmore Glacier. This is the route Robert Scott took to get to the south pole only to arrive and find Amundsen's abandoned tent there. It was pretty neat to fly over and imagine sledges, dogs, ponies and men down below finding their route across the glacier 100 years ago.

The Beardmore Glacier, used by Scott to get to the Pole in 1912.

The mountains near camp.

Saturday night festivities: golf lessons...(and "Golf Team" photos.)

For our one day off, we got to explore, driving a few snow mobiles to the local hill, going for a hike with some geologists. We found petrified wood and traces of old forrests from long ago when Antarctica was not so far south. Pretty wild to see wood fibers in the rocks on this slope. Just as wonderful was the views. The Trans-Antarctic Mountains are endlessly stunning.

Looking for the best site to put the repeater...Mt. Kinsey.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

To the Dry Valleys and Moore's Bay

I made it back from Byrd after 8 cancelled flights arriving to town at 1:30 in the morning aboard the LC-130 aircraft. Needless to say, I was a bit tired. But always there was work to do. On Thursday I went to the Dry Valleys to do some work on a few repeaters on the ridge to the south of the valleys overlooking a few of the camps. It is a wonderful place and many memories came flooding back to me.

Looking back to McMurdo Sound. The water is out there!

The following day out to Moore's Bay, past Mount Discovery named for one of Captain Scott's ships about a 100 years ago. The Moore's Bay camp is looking for neutrinos. We spent a bit of time digging out some old antennas and dug out a bit of the tower that was installed a few weeks ago.

Tomorrow I'm scheduled to fly out the CTAM camp on the Beardmore Glacier to put up a few repeaters on the local mountain tops. I'm looking forward to returning to a field camp where life is a bit simpler. It's been above freezing in town for a few days!!

Still working to make contact with Dad on the HAM radio, but I did make contact with Hawaii and Georgia. Getting closer to Massachusetts! Hope all is well! And thanks for reading!

Monday, December 06, 2010

A Week at Byrd

Day 6
Byrd Surface Camp:

What was to be a short two day stay has turned into 6 so far...Erin and I arrived on Wednesday expecting to finish work by Friday evening so we could fly out on the next available flight - Saturday. But our equipment and hardware did not show up on time and we have been left to scrounge around. We did well and we were able to borrow tower sections, uni-strut metal bars for antenna mounting, a wooden 4x4 to be used in place of a tower, extra cable and many other things. Improvising is regular at field camps in the Antarctic Program.
Camp is located on the plateau, there is nothing in sight but what has been brought to the camp. There is a line of shelters used for medical, materials, comms and other such important things. The most important and biggest of the structures is the galley. Past all the structures is Tent
City. A grid of approximately 40 tents that we all sleep in. Shelters, tents, lines of cargo on wooden pallets, outhouses and a bunch of vehicles. That's about it. And a continual wind West.

The temp hovers around -18C which is around 0F. It is quite comfortable with our ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear but when the wind is really blowing (like almost all the time) one needs to keep the skin covered except for short runs to the outhouse or pee flag.

We've now had 7 flights of the LC-130 canceled for various reasons. Mostly weather before the left "the deck" at McMurdo and two have been turned around - one for a cracked windshield and the other, today, came within 80 miles, circled for an hour, and then returned to McMurdo much to the disappointment of the nine folks that have been waiting to head back to McMurdo for what's getting close to a week.

The HF (high frequency) antenna is up as is the irridium satellite antennas which gives the camp a data connection - 1/1000th of the bandwidth of a normal household in the US - for the approximately 50 people who are here. No web surfing, just a simple email account.
To pass the time, something which comes relatively easy to me, I've mostly been learning morse code from my ipod. My dad and I both have our ham radio licenses and being that we're nearly 10,000 miles away voice contact may require more power than we have on each radio. But morse code can make the distance, amazingly enough. Last week, during a test, I could hear him sound out a few signals. So I've spent my nights listening to dits and dahs - and reporting on the sample contacts I've been listeing to, to my partner in crime, Erin...much to his enjoyment.
I like the field camp life. It is colder, harsher and the community tighter. No regular email, no regular phones, just VHF radios (which, naturally I love) throughout the camp. We entertain ourselves with Boggle and speed Scrabble. Lief is simple and I can't complain. But work is all but done here and I am looking forward to returning to "Mac Town" to continue learning the trade of a rigger, which I am quite enjoying. (Only one three hour flight away).

That's all for now. Hopefully two flight tomorrow! I hope all is well.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Byrd Surface Camp


The season continues to go well. I've been climbing and inspecting towers, putting up antennas, and flying in helicopters...and of course, asking the helicopter pilots LOTS of questions. I'm scheduled to fly to Byrd Surface Camp on Wednesday morning for a few days with another rigger to put up a tower with irridium sat. phone and data antennas, and ground to air antenna so the camp folks can talk with the pilots, a wireless cloud antenna and a local VHF antenna for regular voice communications. We'll be way out there, taking a LC-130 to fly out there into the interior of the continent.

Scott's hut in the foreground. McMurdo Station behind. Three wind turbines on the hill behind the station.

Otherwise this past week, I had a wonderful Thanksgiving meal, a real TWO DAY weekend, put up a dipole for the HAM radio club, checked out Robert Scott's hut from the early 1900s and climbed down into an Observation Tube below the sea ice.

Into the Observation Tube.

Under the sea ice!

Below is a link to an article written about Byrd camp and below this is the info I receive about life at Byrd this season for those who are interested.

Byrd Surface camp is at an elevation of 5,270 ft and is located at S 80.01 W 119.64. It is one of the oldest deep field establishments in the USAP program. Initially constructed as Byrd Station in 1957 and then reconstructed as New Byrd Station in 1960, it took the form of a relatively large network of arches lying approximately 20ft under the surface of the ice. Abandoned 10 years later, it has been followed by a number of different surface stations and camps, the last of which was decommissioned in the ’04-’05 field season. Last year, in November 2009 it was reincarnated as a 12 structure, 30-60 person research camp with the purposes of supporting a variety of geophysical research projects over the next five years.

In order to help you enjoy your stay here at Byrd, the camp staff have put together this document to outline the features of Byrd camp, its layout, amenities, operational areas and a few rules and policies that have been implemented to ensure your safety while here at camp.

Camp Layout and Facilities

Below you will find a map of the camp detailing the various buildings and Tent City. Following the map is a description of each of the buildings and how best to use them while here at Byrd.


The galley is open 24/7 for snacks and drinks.

Official meal times are:

Breakfast: 6:30am – 7:30 am Lunch: 12:00pm – 1:00pm Dinner: 6:00pm – 7:00pm Midrats: 12:00am – 1:00am (for night crew only)

Please let the Chef know if you have any allergies or food preferences.

House Mouse:

Everyone is asked to participate in House Mouse duties when staying at camp for longer than a period of 3 days. House Mouse duties include such tasks as washing dishes, filling the snow melter, refilling supplies and cleaning the Galley. Your name will automatically be added to the roster when you arrive. Please check the schedules in the Galley to determine the time of your house mouse shift. If you are unable to make the time assigned to you, please contact one of the chefs to arrange an alternate time.

Galley Info Board:

There is an information board in the Galley that contains a variety of information about camp, from official camp documents to daily weather forecasts and flight information to current recreational activities, etc. Please check it regularly for updates.


The Medical Tent will be staffed from 8:30am to 11:30 am Mon – Sat for drop-ins or appointments. The PA will be available throughout the remainder of the working day, as needed and is on call 24/7 for emergencies. The PA sleeps in the medical tent to respond to any medical emergencies that may arise during the night. Feel free to stop in; it is only asked that you knock to preserve the privacy of patients.

Wash module and Outhouses:

The Wash module contains a cubby for each member of camp to store their toiletry items for the duration of camp. In the wash module, you will find showers, washing machine and sinks. Instructions for the operation of each of these systems will be posted inside. Due to the limited amount of water available at Byrd Camp, a shower schedule may be needed and will be posted similar to the house mouse schedule. There are a set of outhouses located in line with the cargo berm, behind the galley. Additionally there is another outhouse in the center of Tent City. The camp at large is responsible for the cleanliness of our facilities, so please clean and resupply toilet paper or hand sanitizer as needed.


The Communications tent is generally where you’ll find the camp management staff, if they’re not out and about. If you need either the camp manager or supervisor and they are not in Comms, you can have one of the camp staff get a hold of them via radio. Additionally, the comms tent is where one must check out from camp for recreational purposes. Someone there can provide you with a radio, GPS and will handle your check out and check in (much the same as the McMurdo Firehouse).

Tent City

Tent City is laid out in a grid formation of 40x40ft numbered lots. Each of the green flags represents the center of a lot and the area where you should erect your tent if you will be staying for three or more nights. To select a lot, simply remove the green flag, place your tent where the green flag was and bring the flag to either the camp manager or supervisor. Each flag has a number (an address) that will be recorded and associated with your name. You are responsible for shoveling the area immediately around your tent and it would be wise to orient your tent to minimize drifting (we get a lot of this at Byrd) by facing the tent door into the prevailing wind. It is also important to note that the areas between the tents will be groomed by heavy machinery and so it is advisable not to leave anything (bamboo, shovels, personal gear, etc.) in the area around your tent. If you see a vehicle grooming tent city while you are on your way to or from your tent, please use extreme caution, as the driver might not be able to see you.

For guests staying less than three nights, there will be a tent in tent city already erected and assigned for you. Please contact the Camp manger or Supervisor for your assigned tent address.

Restricted Areas

KBA Berthing and Science Tents are restricted access tents for practical and safety reasons. Yes, waking up a sleeping KBA pilot is a very unsafe act. You will know in advance if part of your job requires access to these tents.

The snow mine is off limits to all except those who are tasked with getting snow from it. Without the proper orientation it is difficult to tell what areas of the mine are for walking and what areas will become tomorrow’s drinking water. If you really want to wander around in the snow mine, please let us know and we’ll give you a shovel and a big bucket.

The Taxiway (during flight activity) is restricted to all except those who are actively working a flight or performing maintenance. There are a variety of dangerous and hazardous materials in this area, not the least of which is the pilot of an LC 130 who spots you wandering around their plane.

The Skiway is open to all during non-flight hours and closed to all during flight rotations (1 hour before landing and up to an hour after off deck), hopefully for obvious reasons. Should you decide to use the skiway for any reason or if you are working in the vicinity of the skiway you are required to carry a radio with you so you can be notified of an unscheduled arrivals or departures.

Additional Documents

In addition to this document, there are a variety of other documents that should be read during the first day or two at Byrd Camp that will answer a lot of questions you might have and provide valuable information that will help to make your stay at Byrd camp more enjoyable and safer. These documents include:

Recreation Opportunities Alcohol Policy Storm Protocols Emergency Response

Thank you for your cooperation and efforts to help keep Byrd camp a safe and enjoyable work environment. Please let us know if there’s anything we can do to improve your stay here this season.

Byrd Storm Protocol

In the case of deteriorating weather conditions and/or a predicted storm, we will take measures to be sure that all persons in camp are safe and sheltered and that we’ve accounted for all personnel. As conditions worsen, be prepared to gather in the Galley tent and remain there as long as conditions dictate. Provisions will be made for food, water, temporary toilets and berthing as needed.

Weather Conditions

Condition 3 - Fair to marginal weather; approximately 0-20 knot winds

Condition 2 – Marginal to stormy weather; approximately 20-40 knot winds, visibility reduced to 500 meters or less; initiate “Storm Warning” throughout camp via VHF radio if storm is predicted to worsen.

Condition 1 – Severe storm weather; approximately 40-60 knot winds, visibility reduced to 20 meters or less (can’t see building to building consistently); all people to remain stationary in main camp structures.

Population Management

When winds reach 30-40 knots and are forecasted to increase, then everyone in camp should be prepared to gather in the Galley until the storm abates. Camp management, principle investigators, team leaders, shift leaders, and foremen should account for all members of their team/crew throughout the duration of a Condition I storm.

Preparations for a Condition I “lockdown” would include setting up ropes lines between buildings, gathering radios and spare batteries from all groups in camp, collecting sleep kits from tent city, having human waste/urine containers available in the Galley, and filling 5gal water jugs (located in the storage shed) in case of power outage. Ensure there are sufficient AN-8 drums staged by core camp buildings and propane cylinders by the Galley to last through a three-day storm.

Tent city dwellers should be aware of their row and tent position. A map of tent city should be kept in Comms. A perimeter flag line encircling tent city proved helpful in the past. This perimeter line was in a contrasting color to the main flag line leading from camp into tent city.


A cache of emergency storm equipment is located on the side of the galley. The storm equipment cache includes: Rope line for upwind side of basic camp buildings Rope line from upwind door of Galley to Outhouse Central

Urine jugs, urine funnels, Human Waste buckets, toilet seats, and toilet paper wool blankets A spare bundle of flags is stored in the Storage Shed for storm use.


Fire hazards increase during storms. Attention should be focused on keeping egress routes open and areas cleared around heaters. The downwind doors and vestibule doors become easily jammed open then vestibules become packed with snow and useless as an exit. Keep shovels both inside downwind vestibules and outside outer door. Downwind vestibules work great as makeshift outhouses.

Water should be conserved. Showers and laundry should be restricted.

Byrd Surface Camp Recreation


RnR Opportunities at Byrd

Despite being a remote and austere field camp, there are plenty of opportunities for recreation at Byrd. As with any deep field camp however, some of the recreational activities can become dangerous if not properly planned and prepared for. Below is list of recreational activities available at Byrd camp, along with the necessary precautions and procedures to help mitigate any dangers or injuries

Recreational Travel

Byrd camp has a variety of ski (hiking) routes that extend out from camp in all directions. There is ski equipment available from the comms tent that can be checked out, as well as a GPS and VHF radio. All ski routes are both physically flagged and marked as routes in the camps’ GPS systems. Conditions for travel outside of camp (traveling further than 0.25 miles from camp) are as follows.

Travel is limited to condition 3 days only Each party must check out with comms and provide an estimated time of return. Each party must take a radio and a GPS and inform comms as to which route they are planning to

ski Although travel is restricted to flagged routes only, new routes can be created by people who are

interested in doing so, provided the procedures for creating these routes are fully discussed with

camp management first Some routes that extend beyond the visible range of camp must be traveled in groups of two or


Vehicle Usage

All vehicles at Byrd camp are for work related activities only. However, there are opportunities to accompany the vehicle operators during work related activities for those who are interested in learning more about vehicle operations at camp. Please contact camp management if this is something you are interested in doing.

Educational Rec

Members of the Byrd camp staff will be holding classes in their areas of expertise throughout the season for all camp residents who are interested. Such classes may include cooking, cpr/first aid, advanced medical treatment, vehicle operation, etc. If you are interested in hosting such a class please let us know and we can help set it up


There will be a variety of events planned at Byrd from once off parties to regularly scheduled events, such as Sunday morning coffee bar, TV/Movie nights, etc. Please see the Rec board in the Galley for details of upcoming events. If there is an event you’d like to organize please let the camp management know so that we can get it scheduled and help you with any resources you need.


Byrd camp has a variety of recreational equipment ranging from skis to board games. Some of the equipment is readily available in the galley whereas other equipment requires checkout. Please see camp management to check these out.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Week one back in Mac Town!

On the job.

My address, should anyone want to send something (regular US postage rates) to (and therefore receive something in return from) the Antarctic.

BenUrmston, RPSC
McMurdo Station
PSC 469 Box 700
APO AP 96599-1035

On Saturday, I was sent north 20 miles or so to Tent Island. Scientists at Cape Royds need their internet and the repeater system (to retransmit the signal from the cape back and forth to town) needed new antennas. So I got to climb my first tower, albeit a wee one at about 10 feet high!

The new yagi antennas installed.

With me came Chuck, a comms tech. He would check the equipment at the base of the tower and I would swap antennas if need be. We left were dropped off near the apex of Tent Island and told we had about three hours.

The equipment was checked, and need be. I put on the harness and up I went, all of 4 feet! But a tower I was on, doing the job I got hired for. Off came the cylindrical antennas going both directions and on went the small yagi antennas. I managed to not drop anything, though this would be the tower to drop something on, since the comms tech could simply hand the thing back to me. I got everything tied up nicely with copper securing wire and then down I came - my first space walk completed. (Yes, I'm practicing for future space walks, of course.)

Chuck working on equipment.

We were there for another hour and a half or so. The wind had started out at near 20 knots and when we left was perhaps over 30 knots! It was chilly, but I kept warm (push-ups, small hikes, jumping jacks, lots of food and water) and was thankful for all the Outward Bound and NOLS training that has made me able to care for myself, as I listened Chuck say on the radio, "We're ready to get the hell out of here." I thought, "Speak for yourself..."

Helicopter came back and away we went back to town. Helicopters are truly amazing machines. Blows my mind.

Things are going well in McMurdo. Slowly reintegrating myself into the community and my work team. It's Sunday right now, my one day off a week. Went out for my first skate ski out on the road to Williams airfield. It was a beautiful day and I had a very nice ski. Soon to bed for a good sleep to start the week!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Job Description

Responsibilities:The Antenna Rigger assists in the development, installation and maintenance of all guyed towers, freestanding towers and antenna support structures in the USAP (United States Antarctic Program). Installs and performs maintenance on various solar and wind-turbine power generation sites throughout the Antarctic continent.

Additional Responsibilities Include:
- Installs and maintains USAP HF, UHF/VHF, microwave & satellite antenna systems
- Installs and maintains solar and wind-turbine power generation systems
- Installs and maintains antenna radomes
- Develops and fabricates systems for securely installing antennae and other tower-mounted hardware
- Designs and installs technical rigging and rope-access systems
- Performs annual inspections and maintenance on antenna systems at USAP facilities: Palmer, South Pole, McMurdo, and deep field sites
- Maintains inventory and assists with re-supply
- Ensures that work areas meet all RPSC and USAP safety standards
- Frequently climbs towers up to 150' feet in height to perform all normal rigging duties as required
- Frequently lifts 40 pounds

Putting together my tool kit:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Back on the Ice!

More ice ! I love imagining Amundsen and Shackleton down here navigating their ships!

Pack ice! We're getting closer...

After a week of travel and trainings, I find myself back in McMurdo Station! Two and half days in Denver for OSHA trainings and general program orientation, a few hours in L.A. with brother Will at a funny comedy club, 13hours 10 minutes in an airplane flying over the Pacific, a day in a half in New Zealand for training and marveling at the most beautiful trees I have ever seen (Christchurch's Botanical Gardens) followed by this morning's 5 hour flight south and I am here.

It is wonderful to be back. Four years seem like nothing and I feel ready to pick up where I left off. Rumor has it, by joining the Antenna Rigger crew, I have one of the best jobs on the station, perhaps only second to helicopter pilot. I am in a small double room in building 210, though strangly there is noone else in the room right now. I thought I'd get put with at least one roomate! Probably tomorrow, someone will show up. I also have a window, which opens! That might take some getting used to, but I'm excited to have a little more space to play with this season.

I've met my team, they seem excellent, I think we're going to have a lot of fun while working hard. I'm scheduled to head out to Byrd field camp sometime in the next week or so. More to come soon!

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Admiral Is Put Down

My aunt Lolly has been a horse vet for as long as I can remember. I had heard of her "putting down" people's horses for them, had heard of the owner's agonizing decision and even had seen some of our family cats and dogs be put down - slowly falling into the eternal sleep as we pet them, comforted them and cried together in a tight circle. Despite Lol's explanation of what was to come concerning Admiral's fate, I was in no way prepared (there was no way I could be) to see our horse named Admiral, who we think of as our brother, be put down.

Over a month has passed since the day on Cloudberry Farm and I have since been exploring the mountains of Wyoming and the canyons of Utah as an instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School. I have had to set the memory aside from my brain, as it was too painful and distracting to me, but realizing that perhaps writing about it might help the continuing processing that is necessary when seeing a "brother" lose his life. So now as the students are enjoying a day of "solo" I sit on a rock and write in the Utah sun next to the Dirty Devil River.

He had lived with us for about 22 years of my 31. We love our animals, especially when they love us, and as such, Adi became a brother. His first decade of life, so I am told, was not a happy one. He lived in a stable, only turned out for this and that, and was an unhappy and "crazy" horse. Then somehow he ended up with us with three different fields to roam, competing in 3-day events and living next to his various horsy friends in our neighbor Deb's field.

I never took to riding nor do I know an extensive amount of information on horses. I know which side to be on before getting on a horse, I know how to talk to one, and I know how to look where I want to go and the horse will feel it. I don't know what kind of horse Adi is, though I should, or how many hands he is, I just know he is big, strong, and black with a white stripe down his nose (sorry if my terminology is off - I'm sure there is a name for "stripe down the nose" but I am in the canyons of Utah writing in my journal to be typed later.)

Adi was the Admiral, the lasting brother, older than the dogs, always there to greet us, even when the dogs were not. Though he could not wag his tail or run to the open car door upon our return, he was there with a look or a walk to the fence edge ever hoping we would walk over to say hello or goodnight. They were not usually long conversations, though sometimes he or I would linger at the fence.

And so it was that Adi was getting older. He was retired from eventing and spent a summer in Maine with other horses before returning to the farm in the fall. One of his eyes, he could not well see through and this winter, perhaps because he could not see well our of his right eye, struck his left eye with a branch of some sort. Painful and swollen the eye became and despite the unending care of my mother and her sister, the vet, it refused to get better. Adi was going blind, was in pain and Mom and Lol decided it was time for him to be put down, before he was in more pain.

Rationally, I can understand how someone can make such a decision. But when it came to the irrationality of actually ending a life, albeit peacefully and in great care and expertise, it was something that I am still trying to wrap my head around.

I believe the date was set half a week in advance. Adi's time to die was to be Monday, February 15th, 2010. The execution date was set. And herein it begins. Mom and Lol were sure of their decision. I was left to trust their wisdom in the matter and deal with it whatever way I was able. His execution date set, I wanted to visit with him frequently. He was bothered by the eye, I could tell, but I still enjoyed my visits. Questions raged inside my head, "Does he know?" and "Is it fair that he does not know, if he does not?"

Leading up to the scheduled day and time I had flashes of being about to graduate from high school. Excitedly I though, "This is the last time in English class! This is the last time in History class!" But now I was thinking, "Does he know this is the last time he will be put in for the night? Does he know this is his last night! Does he know he has less than a day alive on this planet with us?" His last days were filled with my questions. They were hard to answer and to even ponder but were nothing compared to saying goodbye to him for the last time.

At very last, the scheduled date and approximate time was upon us. Mom said she was getting to get Adi. At this point, events began to proceed faster than I could keep up with.

I walked with Mom down to the barn. This itself is a sacred task happening thousands and thousands of times over the many years, in all seasons, in all weather. But this was the last. We walked down together, burdened with the weight of the matter and task at hand. Mom went into the barn to get a bridle and rope as I opened the fence, knowing it would not need to be closed again. Adi was there. Standing in the middle of our front field - facing me as I walked out to him. Did he know his time had come? There was nothing I could do. Was this really happening? I spoke to him as Mom emerged from the barn and walked our way, savoring our last communion together. Mom arrived, speaking softly and gently to her Adi, as I pet him and Deb voiced her heartfelt condolences to us from over the fence.

And then we walked him to the barn, leaving the front field for the last time. So many times into the field and then called in before the end of the day. And now his last the President being helicoptered away from the White House. Into the barn he went and into his stall.

At this point my sister, Farley, for whom Adi was bought, was there and Lol had arrived with her tools and supplies. As we stood there on the winter day in our coats Lol gratefully explained what I was to experience, having never seen a horse be put down. She said it is far more dramatic than putting down a cat or dog, that one cannot have a horse lie down before giving the injection, and that we have to remain clear of the horse because there is no telling which direction or how he will go down.

And so already with tears in my eyes I tried to prepare myself as events continued beyond my control of life understanding. A small injection was given to Adi in the neck so that a catheter could be put in his neck thus allowing the drugs to be administered to go directly into a vein. We watched as Lol skillfully put the catheter in. And then it was time for Adi to leave us. In his last fully conscious moments we said our goodbye, and gave him our pats. Lol then gave him the first of two doses of mild sedatives. This was to calm him so he wouldn't be confused or apprehensive of the coming events. It was then time to walk him out to the burial site.

All morning, Dad had nursed a burn pile on the spot where Adi was to be buried in an effort to thaw the winter ground enough so a back hoe could come in and dig a grave after Adi's life had ebbed away.

And so Mom led Adi out of the barn, for the last time. It was as though Adi knew what was coming - trusting Mom and Lol, just as I did, whether he understood them or not, he trusted them. He had for years.

He walked out, doing their will, again as he had for year, with wobbly legs and his head down, not knowing just trusting those who loved him and those he no doubt loved.

He was led to the spot next to where the fire had been by then burned down to ashes. The spot for him, the earth softened and selected to hold his bones and flesh when they were no longer living, before the day was out. Again I asked in my head, "Does he know?"

Lol gave him another dose of the sedatives, to calm him further in his last moments of life. We again circled him with pats and soft words knowing we could not hold onto the moment forever. We stepped away, my arm around my sister, Mom saying her final silent words and then she too stepped back. Lol stepped in, and though it all must have been hard for her too, she was business as she had to be. She told Mom she was ready and Mom said, "Anytime." Now with my mother under my left arm and my sister under my right, Lol gave Adi he injection of the barbiturates - an overdose that would quickly stop his heart. We watched and I wondered, the seconds last a long time. Adi put this head down, uttered a long and low sigh vibrating his lips as horses do. It was as though he was saying thank you, though he was saying goodbye, though he was releasing everything he had lived in his 30 or so years for us. As though his soul was escaping, though he didn't know what was happening, but he know to trust us and he knew it was time for his soul to move on. He was giving us everything he had for us to hold on to what we could.

And then he went down. And he was gone. The strong black body that lay before us was lifeless. The animal we had known for so long was there before us but the soul was already gone. His tongue hung out of his mouth. It was not the quite sleep from a smaller animal. It was fast, because it had to be, but I was not ready to see a brother lose the life within him, even though he trusted us so. Not ready to see the fall to the ground with death. Not ready to say goodbye to our friend and our family member.

I cried hard in my sister's embrace, not wanting to hold back the emotion I felt so raw. I was not the rider, was not his caretaker but I was a sibling and it is not easy to see one go.

I wonder what his thought were, I wonder what he would have said to us. The overriding feeling I get is trust. And somehow that makes it harder, makes me miss him more. He trusted us with his life....and his death. Yes, he is just a horse, but he was one of us for 22 years. We both lived most our lives at Cloudberry Farm, sharing the outside fields and trees and sky. Our separate lives intertwined in the casual greetings of the day or night.

Far had to leave to pick up her son at school while Mom, Lol, Uncle Tots and I, stood by our friend Adi. Lol cleaned up Adi's eye, taking out the stitches and treatment tube that was used to treat his wound and then braided a section of his tail for Far as if he was being readied for one last show. She cut the small braid off and then did one for me and my brothers, should they want one.

The backhoe came, began to dig and I said my last good bye to Adi's body, wishing I din't have to. It was time to leave as I did not want to see the horse moved into the gave by a backhoe. I walked back to the house, though Adi's fields, not knowing if they shall ever be another's. Mom and Dad plan to move soon, the fate of our home unknown. It was the end of an era.

Later that day, Lol said she placed Adi in a good position in his grave. Imagining the dirt slowly covering him up just adds to the pain of his being gone. I told Lol I was grateful for her kind explanation of what it would be like, doing everything she could to help us through the process. And in thanking her, the tears flowed freely again, as they have in writing this.

I talked about it with Mom and Dad and Far but I knew it had a way to go inside my head. It was just hard to explain all the questions I had - what it was like for Adi. I guess I am happy I felt he trusted us, I am happy Mom and Lol cared so much for him, am happy he had such a good life with us. But I am sad he is gone. And he is missed greatly. Driving in the driveway is lonely now, no matter hew many people are home as Adi was always the first to greet us. The transition from the road to know we were home.

The Admiral is gone, Lord of the Barnyard. Thank you for everything. We love you. Life is life and family is family. Live it like you mean it and don't waste the days.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Corwith Cramer C-226C, Part 2

6 FEB: Each day students are assigned to the deck or to the lab (or to help with dishes). Of course, science deployments occur throughout each day. Always a neuston tow at noon and at midnight. My focus, though, has always been the deck. As a student in the lab, I remember being in the lab when the call came from deck that hands were needed. I remember turning my head toward the hatch, feeling like a dog, who has just realized his owner is putting on his running shoes. I will always love sail handling, plotting our course, and navigating with with celestial bodies.

Dawn watch in the lab this morning, but I was free to do as I pleased as students were working on their science presentations and my services as a sign language interpreter were not needed. I spent the whole four hours organizing my celestial navigation progressions and outlines and getting ready for the approaching morning nautical twilight (when the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon). This is a time when it is light enough to see the horizon, but still dark enough to see the bright navigational stars. When the twilight came, just before turning over to C watch for the morning watch, I got angles of Vega, Mars and the moon. It will forever amaze me that one can figure out one's position from three celestial bodies!

8 FEB: Spent the afternoon on Garden Key exploring Fort Jefferson, interpreting classes on the history and natural history of the Civil War era fort. We all went snorkeling after class, though it was "worse than pole." "Pole" was our first real Crazy Horse snorkeling endeavor and therefore our reference: it had clear water, but nothing to look at except sea grass, tiny lobsters and a pole in the water. Needless to say it was good to stretch the legs on the island and give the arms a bit of exercise with some butterfly strokes in the ocean.

9 FEB: Underway again. Dawn watch again this morning. Got my celestial sights (this morning from Vega, Altair, Antares and the crescent moon.)in and worked out what is really required to get the latitude and longitude from the heavens:

1 instrument error measured
3 angles measured
3 times recorded and converted to universal time
27 tabes entered to get 36 numbers
30 arithmetic exercises
9 lines drawn on a plotting sheet
7 latitude or longitude distance measurements

Naturally, it is quite satisfying to have a position that is within a mile of the actual position when checked with the GPS!

A cold front came through during the evening watch when we had the deck. The winds had been light and variable but we knew from the VHF radio that the front was going to hit very soon. It took all of a few minutes for the winds to jump to over 30 knots. We were out on the bowsprit furling the jib in the darkness as it really hit and the rain started to fall, first as a few little drops, and then a downpour the clear sky above us was overcome by a cover of clouds as though someone was pulling them over us like a blanket. It was quite exciting to be out on the bowsprit, with a job to do, in the strong wind and rain. I could hear the students' nervous excitement in their voices as we got the jib in nice and tidy-like. Afterwards, one of the students said, "That felt like war!" For students who have never been out to sea before, it is pretty intense to be suspended on a net above the black ocean, that with each wave threatens to reach up and soak them, furling a sail in the darkness by feel and cooperation as the temperature drops suddenly. Everyone was very focused and as I unclipped from the bowsprits safety wire with my windward side soaking wet, I was very happy. I love moments like that. And the students will never forget it.

10 FEB: Back at Key West. Our watch brought the ship in under 30 knots. Overall, it was a wonderful sail and interpreting on a sailboat for a wonderful student, named Shanna, was really a great experience. I was assigned to wherever she was assigned and was there to interpret the deck lectures and wherever else I could help with the communication - on deck at night wearing a red headlight to illuminate my face and hands, while trying disturb anyone's night vision. It was great that I was very familiar with the Cramer and how the ship is run. I certainly have a long way to go in terms of my interpreting skills and I was grateful for Shanna's patience, positive attitude and good natured feedback. I was also grateful when, after I misspelled "chlorophyll" and "phytoplankton" for the millionth tim, she was not annoyed but said it was, "endearing." She certainly taught me a lot. And hopefully she learned a little bit from me and the rest of the crew of the Cramer.

12 FEB: Back at Mystic now. Finally here and in bed by 0300 and though I wanted to sleep a long normal length sleep, I was awake at 0715. Oh well, lots to do. I certainly miss my bunk though. Like a little cave of wondrous sleep. It is strange to walk through the hall of the Mystic staff house without leaning first towards one wall and then towards the other in coordination with the ships rolls back and forth as she cuts through the water. There is always a satisfaction when that skill comes back. To walk through a passage way in complete balance in a heavy sea...Already I miss the sense of accomplishment that comes with one day out at sea. And of course I always miss the team, and being part of a crew on a mission. It's what I live for.

Soon to head home and get ready for the NOLS semester course which I will start briefing for in about a week. Just found out I'll be working the first section (back country skiing) with Rob Lloyd of Crazy Horse and now Fishers Hornpipe lore! Needless to say our students are going to have fun as we cavort around the backcountry together.

I will miss these Williams-Mystic students and faculty, who have become my shipmates. They are wonderful and they are lucky to be in such a wonderful program. To finish with a quote, from Oliver Wendell Holmes that I have had in the front cover of my journal since the summer sailing Downeast with Outward Bound:

"I find the greatest thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving. To reach the p[rot of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind, and sometimes against it, but we sail, and not drift, nor live at anchor."