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29 November, 2003

Although Thanksgiving was officially on Thursday, at McMurdo it is celebrated on Saturday. Employees have the entire weekend off. The Galley crew and assorted volunteers spend Saturday preparing an amazing feast for all station personnel. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, most of the Big Razorback crew decided that Saturday afternoon would be the ideal time to head to town for some socializing and fine dining. We signed up for the final seating for dinner-on Thanksgiving diners are served in shifts, so that all can enjoy this festive and delicious meal.

Saturday was kind of a grey and blustery day, with healthy gusts of wind coming from the south, but nothing too strong or sustained. It was actually quite warm, with temperatures close to freezing. The area around McMurdo had that end-of-winter/early spring kind-of-grungy look so familiar to anyone from snowy climates; piles of frozen snow covered with a sprinkling of gritty grey dirt and pebbles, occasional puddles, and muddy areas to walk around on the hike up to town from the transition zone/snowmobile staging area. It was warm enough to wander around gloveless and hatless-at least when you were out of the wind.

It was the kind of afternoon that required a walk. We had to do something to justify the upcoming feast. Gillian and I decided it would be a fine day to hike up Ob Hill. Besides the obvious appeal of a nice hike, it's one of the few places around McMurdo that you can go without checking out officially at the Fire Station and without bringing along a radio. After spending this whole season carrying a radio everywhere we go, the thought of hiking unencumbered is pretty attractive. The trail winds up the northern side of the hill, blocking hikers from the full brunt of the southerly winds. Whatever the weather, the view from the top to the west towards the Royal Society Range is a good one, and there's plenty of wind-free perches behind rocks to allow you some quality gazing time.

On the way back to the dorm from our hike, we decided it would be a great time to go in search of the McMurdo Greenhouse. We'd heard that it was tucked away somewhere back in the storage yards, but were not quite sure of the exact location. Wandering amongst large crates with labels like 'South Pole' or 'Doors-very heavy' we had decided that it was unlikely that we would find it at all. Just as we were about to give up and head back to the dorm, we saw a small, nondescript, windowless building that just happened to have pictures of vegetables painted on the side. Ah Hah!

This greenhouse is unlike any I have ever been in. First of all, it's windowless. Second of all, it's soil-less. How can that be? Instead of relying on the highly variable light of the Antarctic, the interior light comes from the UV grow-lights hanging from the ceilings, while the heavily insulated walls are covered with reflective foil to further amplify that light for the plants. Everything in this greenhouse is grown hydroponically. Instead of soil, all the plants are grown in a planting medium that is bathed in water that circulates through plastic pipes. Each plant is in its own small container. Food grown in the greenhouse supplements the other 'freshies' served in the galley. There were great beds of lettuce, along with swiss chard, cucumbers, tomato plants, basil, sage, and oregano.

Stepping into the greenhouse was like going through a door that operated in two contrasting biomes; an immediate leap from polar to tropical. We were hit with a thick, humid wall of 'essence of green'. It was wild to suddenly be surrounded by green, growing things after spending the last 6 weeks out on the ice living in a world of varying shades of white. The change in humidity from outside to inside was dramatic-especially when you consider that we are in what is one of the driest places on earth. It was mighty tempting to just park ourselves in the greenhouse for the rest of the day to draw its humidity into our sun-parched skin, but it was time to head off for our 6:00 seating for dinner.

Daily Haiku:

Antarctic greenhouse

Grow lights and hydroponics

Amazing vegies

Here's a view inside the greenhouse. The plants growing on the walls are cucumbers.

Here's some rows of hydroponically grown lettuce

Fresh tomatoes, anyone?

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