Sunday, October 24, 1999

Forrest's Path

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Those crystal-clear blue eyes. They’re the first thing you notice when Forrest McCarthy sits down in front of a group to give his opening lecture at the Field Safety Training Program. One-on-one, they lock on to you and never let go, like a visionary to a dream.

It’s been a long journey, through Boy Scouting, on road trips as a Deadhead after high school, on rock climbs in Colorado, treks in Nepal, and beyond. Forrest lives the dream, and made it back to the Ice this season after three years away.

Recently, he helped start a program to prevent drug and alcohol addiction among Inuit youth near Nome, Alaska. “The white guy from Wyoming was taking the Eskimos into the wilderness,” Forrest laughed. He even got to make the Eskimos do Eskimo rolls while teaching them to kayak, a traditional Eskimo skill which has been lost over the past couple of generations.

He said they were enthusiastic learners, but they had some wisdom to impart of their own. “My background is ‘leave no trace,’” he said, “and these people have been part of the ecosystem for thousands of years.” Modern backcountry methods weren’t the norm for his students.

“I’d tell them to filter their water, and they’d just look at me. They’d been drinking it all along,” he said.

Forrest has been drinking the water of Antarctic lore for years now. “I remember asking my mother if all deserts were hot, and she found an article in the encyclopedia on the Dry Valleys.” He was about 5 years old at the time, and ever since, has been interested in Antarctica.

Over the years he learned more, getting a big picture book for Christmas the year he was 10, and, later, meeting clients in the Tetons who had been grantees on the Ice. He even met Buck Tilly, a longtime sea ice safety instructor, who helped Forrest get an interview for the position at FSTP.

He didn’t come back after that first season, choosing instead to finish his college degree in outdoor education with a minor in human ecology. But his return now, older and perhaps a bit wiser, gives him a rare perspective on changes around McMurdo.

The Field Safety program has a bigger role now, he said. “No one goes out in the field, except maybe the National Guard, without going through training.”

Also, he finds that people and offices throughout the U.S. program are using the expertise of the Field Safety staff more, for planning routes over sea ice, or scouting potential deep-field landing sites. “We’re being used more as a resource,” he said.

But Forrest is not just a nice guy who teaches you how to get along in the cold. A member of the search-and-rescue team, he’s one of the people who will show up in a tracked Hägglunds vehicle in whiteout conditions, pick you up from your feeble snow shelter, and get you warm and dry and home in bed.

One day a week, Forrest and his colleagues on the SAR team train. They alternate between practicing scenarios with the primary team and helping to prepare the secondary team for the winter, when they become the primary team.

There’s more high-tech gear available to them now, and more experience with the equipment, which Forrest said leads to better training. He’s very happy with the capabilities of the new SAR vehicle, a Hägglunds outfitted with GPS and radio direction-finding equipment, but warns against feeling overly confident in bad conditions just because there’s a great rescue team with good equipment.

“It’s an incredibly powerful tool, but it shouldn’t be a crutch,” he said. It’s a lot like your town’s first aid squad getting the Jaws of Life: You don’t drive faster and more recklessly just because they can get you out of the wreck when it happens. Forrest encourages safety, and he teaches people how to practice it in the outdoors.

He does so by combining the best outdoor-equipment technology with traditional skills, choosing FDX boots, the government-issue boot modeled on the Eskimo mukluk, and building snow-dome huts with lightweight snow shovels.

Every so often it goes a bit far: At McMurdo Dome, he said, “We made an igloo once cutting the snow blocks with chainsaws.”

His Antarctic experience, while broader than most, is still limited to the official U.S. Antarctic Program. He’s never done any commercial expeditions in Antarctica, but has a client who hopes to climb Mount Vinson, the continent’s highest peak. Maybe Forrest will get to help with that trip.

Antarctica’s a tough environment in which to live and work, but Forrest still said, “I truly believe the world would be a better place if more people got outside.” He helps make it possible for that to happen safely, even here.

High society, Antarctica style: Wine tasting draws connoisseurs to Coffee House

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Vivaldi was on the stereo. Golden light glowed on the polished wooden walls. The McMurdo Coffee House was warm with cheer and conversation over wine Thursday evening. The recreation department sponsored a wine tasting of six “regional” wines: Australia and New Zealand have excellent wine-producing regions which supplied the evening’s beverage samples.

“Six wines to go!” cried one eager taster before walking up to the first of six tables.

All the wines found fans in the group, who happily held out their plastic wine glasses for more. The wine tasting itself won great fans.

According to an enthusiastic Coloradan who called himself simply Kyu, “You have to have certain things that keep you in touch with the outside world.” His favorite was the Church Road Cabernet Merlot, a New Zealand red wine. “I wish they had more wines, so they could do this every week.”

The old Quonset hut, the type used during the Korean War, was jammed with people taking advantage of the free wine, as well as the shop-price bottles available only during
the tasting.

Even a soon-to-depart McMurdo winterer braved the crowd for some quality wine. Liz Muck, from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, is a Merlot fan whose favorite among the evening’s selection was the Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon, though she also liked the Delgats Reserve Merlot. She said she was a bit intimidated by the number of people, but was glad she’d come.

“It’s a very good idea,” said Christine Foreman, a Dry Valleys research grantee from Toledo, Ohio.

Another fan agreed: “I think it’s a great idea; I love wine,” said Kenda Andersen, a construction general assistant from Montana.

“It’s fun opportunity for a new person to meet everyone,” said Vicky Miles, a recreation finance clerk from Denver. She didn’t taste all the wines, but while she was busy serving samples, she overheard lots of comments about the wines, among which there was no clear winner. “There was no consensus among the tasters,” she said.

Bill McCormick, from the Field Safety Training Program, liked the Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz. The wine tasting gave him hope for McMurdo’s future. Remembering that the wine bar was to be torn down for lack of use a few years ago, he said, “I toast the actual place itself.”

Cold Hard Facts

Published in the Antarctic Sun

Captain John Davis, aboard the Huron out of New Haven, Connecticut, may have made the first landing on Antarctica at Hughes Bay, on the Antarctic Peninsula, on February 7, 1821, on a sealing trip. The next known landing on the continent was at Cape Adare in Victoria Land on January 18, 1895, 74 years later.

Jules Dumont d’Urville, in addition to exploring the coast of Antarctica, discovered the statue Venus de Milo and brought it to France.

The South Magnetic Pole was east of Ross Island in 1600. It has moved roughly northwest at the rate of 6-9 miles per year, and is now in the Dumont d’Urville Sea.

The first people to winter on the Ice were in a British-funded team under the leadership of Carsten Egeberg Borchgrevink, a Norwegian. The 10 men(three British, five Norwegian, and two
Finns) lived in two huts (called Camp Ridley) at the base of Cape Adare from March 1899 to January 1900.

On March 12, 1842, the Erebus and the Terror, James Clark Ross’s ships, collided in a storm in a field of icebergs, crippling the Erebus. Three days later, both ships were repaired enough to continue the voyage.

Robert Falcon Scott’s first voyage to the Antarctic, in 1901-1904, began poorly: The expedition’s ship, Discovery, was found to be leaking on the voyage from Britain to New Zealand.

The first newspaper on Antarctica was the South Polar Times, published by Scott’s expedition each month. Ernest Shackleton was the editor and printer. Submissions were solicited from
all members of the group.

Source: Antarctica: The Extraordinary History of Man’s Conquest of the Frozen Continent
(New York: Reader’s Digest, 1988).

Monday, July 12, 1999

Planned tavern brings hope

Published in the Otago Daily Times

On the route between Central Otago and the West Coast, the Clutha and the Hawea rivers pose a massive barrier to travellers, goods and animals. They flow together at Albert Town, beginning the chain of confluences which power Central Otago's electric appliances.

On the banks of the Hawea River, there is a nohoanga site, one of several in the area traditionally used by local Maori for camping and gathering food on trips from the east coast to the greenstone-guarding glens of the West Coast.

Soon there may be a new re-supply site, not just for Ngai Tahu, but for all travellers and residents in the region. Alison and Bruce Hebbard, great-grandchildren of early residents of Albert Town, are planning to build a tavern just south of the bridge over the Clutha.

Near where the bridge is now, Henry Ferris Norman, the grandfather of two of Albert Town's current residents, set up the first licensed ferry across the Clutha in 1863. It immediately became a stopping point for travellers and locals. The early settlers were well-known for their hospitality and willingness to help farmers and miners solve any problem that arose.

The tavern has the potential to change Albert Town as it will provide the town's first social space where everyone can gather at any time. With a shop and a takeaway/restaurant, Albert Town's residents will no longer have to drive all the way to Wanaka to remedy a moment's inattention at the supermarket.

There are some arrangements still to be made. The Hebbards are negotiating with Transit New Zealand over the location of a traffic sight line restriction on the property.

The traffic negotiations and the request for a smaller, cheaper building than the one they originally proposed have held up the council's final go-ahead. Worse, the delays mean more delays. There is a time limit on development and subdivision of the property and the Hebbards have applied for an extension, which means more paperwork and more waiting.

"We don't like setting deadlines when we don't know if we'll be in a position to make it," Bruce Hebbard said.

They have sympathy among the community. "The bureaucracy those people have put up with is absolutely disgusting," said Ida Darling, one of three surviving grandchildren of the first Albert Town ferryman.

The residents are impatient for the tavern to get the go-ahead, which is a departure from the usual reaction of small towns to change. Ethel Templeton said: "It would be very good for the area." This favourable reaction from newcomers and old-timers is not just because the people building the tavern are locals, it is because residents see it as a growing, changing area which has opportunity for future projects.

Albert Town was once the only town in the district. The first school in the area, though called the Wanaka School, was at Albert Town. The school building once used at Albert Town is now part of the Wanaka Primary School in Wanaka. Three grandchildren of some of the founders of the town still live there, along with some of their children and grandchildren.

This is still the kind of place people grow attached to, even if they are spending only small parts of the year here. Tourism is having a mixed impact on Albert Town — there are large numbers of visitors to the area year-round but since there is only one storefront business, there is not much economic impact. The tavern may change that.

In the summer, the camping ground across the Clutha from Albert Town fills with holidaymakers from all over New Zealand.

Over the past 20 years, one family has perfected the art of summer holidaying by the Clutha. They have a generator, a water pump, a water tank on a scaffold, a wood-fired water heater and a shower tent. They even run a washing machine in the camping ground. The kids have a water slide set right on the river bank.

Some of the group don't come anymore: the ashes of two of them are scattered in the reserve, and a tree and an inscribed rock in the corner of the old, disused historic graveyard speaks of the memory of those two and three others.

The five names fit neatly on one sone. They are connected in spirit to this place, and to the people who gather here to build their temporary village for the summer, but are only distantly related by blood and marriage.

The townspeople may yet adopt the tree (planted there at Christmas 1998) as part of their history, though none but two know about its meaning. Those who live and holiday in the permanent structures don't mix much with those in tents and campervans across the river. But if there is a tavern across the river, they might begin to.

Albert Town is a mixed-age down with residents from newborn, to those in their 90s. It attracts the 20-and-30-something set with cheaper housing than nearby Wanaka. The increasing number of lifestyle sections in Albert Town attract retirees and affluent families seeking a relaxed place to live. Others come in search of peace and quiet, a place away from the madness the world can sometimes become.

The community association gathers twice a year. Many newer residents are being drawn because their friends and neighbours are long-time town residents, so they feel comfortable in these groups. On weekends, neighbours help with various household and outdoor tasks.

There are informal gatherings such as the winter solstice outdoor barbecue hosted by Rae and Ngaire Benfell.

The new tavern will provide a purpose-built place for get-togethers. The living room and back garden gatherings will continue but will be broadened by contact with others in town.

Albert Town residents share concerns about the future of the town and its services and amenities. Most of them love living here, preferring Albert Town to other places they could have lived and worked.

Gary Templeton, who grew up here and is raising his children here, thinks "there's nowhere better to live." Moira Fleming, who has been here for 10 years, agrees. "The people who live in Albert Town love living in Albert Town," she said.

Residents are specially concerned about road sealing, sewage treatment and speed limits. As local government priorities change and national governments chance policies and regulations, Albert Town is caught in the resulting turmoil. But the community association is promoting Albert Town's interests in discussions the Queenstown-Lakes District Council has about funding and resource allocation.

The separation between the people on each side of the river may subside with the arrival of the tavern. The separation between neighbours and those on opposite sides of State Highway 6, which bisects the town, is also likely to improve.

As Moira Fleming put it, "The tavern is a wee hope sign for lots of things."

Thursday, July 1, 1999

Onward from Bodhinyanarama

Published in Inspiration Input

I had left Wellington without a destination. Late at night, in the condition others call "lost" but I call "exploring," my headlights shone upon a massive wooden gate and a sign reading "Bodhinyanarama Buddhist Monastery."

It was clear to me that, though I had not intended to end up here, it was no accident. In the morning, the gate was open when I awoke; I dressed and walked up through it.

I found two men building a set of dirt-and-log stairs up a bush-covered hill. One of the men had a shaved head, and was wearing golden-coloured robes and sandals. The other had on jeans, a T-shirt, and gumboots. The monk - I later learned his name was Sucinno - told me to talk a walk further up the hill to see the stupa, or reliquary, which was under construction.

The walk to the stupa was the beginning of a set of discoveries within myself which I hope will continue for the rest of my life. I had had no previous contact with Buddhism, though I had heard of it and read Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha. So I sat, and listened, and read in the library.

I discovered that the Buddha, who was a real person of whom there are historical records, taught four Noble Truths: the existence of suffering, the causes of suffering, the alleviation of suffering, and relief from suffering. His main idea was - and is - that the issues which most concern humans (enumerated as birth, death, aging, separation from the liked, and association with the disliked) all result in, and cause further, suffering in the world.

The more I read, the more I was convinced the Buddha had it inside out: life was not suffering but joy; suffering was caused by human imperfection and behavioural flaws manifested in search of joy.

The Buddha further taught that Enlightenment, relief from suffering, could be had only by individual searching of the inner and outer worlds. He taught that inquiry and investigation were the way to seeing the world as it truly is, which is how he defined Enlightenment. This involved detachment of emotional ties from people, places, and things. The monks chant, "All that is mine, beloved and pleasing, will become otherwise, will become separated from me." The impermanence of things, beings, and feelings is key in Buddhism. What is is the only constant, and it lies behind the veils of what we think is.

I agreed with a great deal of this thought process, particularly in its encouragement to see through the smokescreens we create around ourselves, changing who we are into who we think we want to be, or who we think others want us to be. But I also felt that the push for individualism was a bit overdone.

Beyond the basic belief structure, I also had some problems with the lifestyle. There is lots of sitting meditation (2 hours a day), not much eating (only before midday), and an incredibly intellectually rigorous environment (the hard part is figuring out how to ask the many questions which arise). My legs like moving too much, my stomach likes eating too much, and I sometimes need a break from inquiry to recharge my mental batteries.

I found a passage in a book by a Buddhist monk, Ajahn Munindo, which said that he felt joy and suffering were inseparably linked; that breaking through suffering resulted in joy. I reflected that none of the thing which had ever made me feel joyous were without a share of suffering at some stage. However, it was not the acceptance of suffering but its rejection which drove me through and beyond the hard parts and, ultimately, to joy.

And so the journey continues, with much more to think about than before; I go forth in search of joy.