Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Glorious Sky

Hey All,

it has been an illuminating week. On Saturday, after many days of blustery, obscuring weather, the wind died and the heavens cleared and a magical world was revealed. Wandering home on that day, glad of the still conditions and able to see in front of my feet for the first time in weeks, I turned to check for my favorite stars, more of which were appearing every day as the light on the horizon dimmed to a pale blue band. And a strange sight I saw.Was it? my mind asked, unsure as the colours were muted to white, ghostlike smokey bands...but yes. More minutes and I realised that above me I was seeing the mystical Aurora Australis, the Southern Lights.

It is embarrassing for me that a third of my PhD thesis required me to have a certain expertise in a phenomenon that I had never laid eyes on, and that my first refereed research paper, published next month, discussed the aurora in detail, yet my 'expert' eyes had never observed them! So it was with no small relief, and an unquantifiable satisfaction that I watched these translucent curls of light shift across my icy sky. Since then, as the sky darkened further, we have had some lovely displays, culminating yesterday ina vivid, bright green display which licked and curved across a massive arc of sky, looking more than anything like the tags of a Sydney graffiti artist, intent on much colour and mischief. The Sun, it seems, is a trascendent graffiti maestro, with tagnames and motifs ever changing in colour and shape, on his vast blank wall that is our polar atmosphere.

Today I had a treat. Despite the clear skies, darkness still shrouds the ground and walking still involves exciting stumbles. So to walk out of the beercan, only to blink in the unexpectedly blinding light was a bit of a surprise. Full, fat and glorious, the moon had risen directly ahead of me, casting a brilliant, yet unobserved, light on our world. I cannot quite describe how it changes the landscape. In a white world, the moon has more power than on any other pallet. She was a pale gold, but her mantle was a deep, sepia brilliance, a blinding honey colour, and on the ground, suddenly the sastrugi were lit in bright, cold silver. It was brilliant enough to send my moonshadow stretching for many spans across the snow. Walking to work was now as easy as in the summer sun, each fold of snow glowing bright under the moon's considerate gaze. Stunning, lovely place I work in...

In other news, last night involved some colour and fun. After a mostly uneventful, successful work week, a few of us were having beers in the galley yesterday evening. Jarrad, a big red-headed kiwi fella, and a few of the other kiwis and Aussies were reminiscing about a few of the more enjoyable pub/rugby practical jokes that we had observed over the years. Jarrad quickly eyes me and says 'how are your reflexes?' I knew this spelled trouble, but since this one wasn't familiar, figured I'd allow myself to be the court's jester. A couple of minutes later, I was deposited on the table,sitting with a foot at either corner on the edge, holding a very large galley ladle in one hand. The trick, Jarrad tells me is as so: he poured ( a sizable amount) of beer on the table between my knees and said, holding a bunched up teatowel in hand - 'You have to hit me with the ladle, before I can wipe all the beer up'. Easy. *sigh*. As he shouted go, and I brandished the ladle, he dropped the teatowel, grabbed my ankles and yanked me forwards off the table - so i wiped up the beer with my butt. To the enjoyment of thirty aussies/kiwis/yanks watching, and now crying with laughter.

This started an evening of pub jokes, where we had our station doctor and one of the other scientists blindfolded and hogtied on the ground, whacking each others heads with spoons they had between their teeth - trick being only one was actually blindfolded. While when the other (untied and unblindfoled) person was meant to be hitting the poor blind sod on the head, a third person (Jarrad) had an extra spoon in hand, and winds up for a solid'crack' on the blindfolded gooses' noggin, none the wiser to the trick.

It finished with me getting a bit of my own back, with a trick I learned inthe pub, and which to my knowledge only women can do. Kneeling on the ground, you place your arm flat on the floor, elbow to your knee, fingers out in front. Someone puts a (preferrably full) shot glass of some substance at your fingertips. Then, with your hands behind your back, you have to pickup the shotglass with your mouth. Harder than it sounds. Jarrad ended up cheating by sliding his head along the ground and ambushing the glass from the side - as did Allan, but he hit the carpet a little hard. Now he has a ripper graze on his forehead and today his new nickname is Allan "Gorbachev"Day. Much fun had by all...

All else is going ok, ACBAR is behaving himself and everyone seems to have settled in now that the darkness has descended. Hope everyone out there is doing ok, send me a line or three sometime


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