“Bivouac” : a short stay, usually overnight, often with minimum equipment. This Webster dictionary entry defines my favorite sleeping alternative to my assigned room on station. Rather than a comfy bed in a carpeted, heated room one floor up from the dining room and two floors up from the lab, on nice nights I elect to sleep outside. I enjoy nature directly rather than from my indoor perch overlooking the harbor.
My outdoor room is a short walk up the road from the station buildings, followed by a brief clamber over rocks. A plywood floor suspended over boulders nestled behind a rock wall on the station side defines this room. Soon I know my landlord, aka Mother Nature, will provide snow white wall-to-boulders carpeting that will not need vacuuming, just a little shoveling. In keeping with the minimalism of bivouacking, this room is furnished with a pallet resting up against the rock wall serving as my recliner and a bivy sac – a tent for one person that essentially encases my warm bag and two insulating camp pads. There is a little space inside left to stash my jacket and boots. Simple.
Once cozied in my red/black bivy and glacier blue sleeping bag I can prop up against my recliner and watch the day close, as dusk obscures the distant peninsular Humphries Heights. Nearby winged tenants entertain me with aerial displays and caw each other good night. A flat rock across the inlet is a popular bivouac for seals that haul out for a short rest, relying simply on their blubber for warmth.
Last week the station was treated to a glorious orangey-red sunset. At right is a view of the sunset from my indoor room with the station flagpole in the foreground. That day the station had a visit from a yacht and as is custom, we flew the flag of our visitors’ home. Can you guess where are new mates are from??
On this night, many folks gathered in the ‘crows nest’ atop the station’s back building to absorb the last of a rare sunny day and its picturesque finale. Do you see Ruth up there? Notice how the windows of the building in the photo at right reflect the sunset. Notice too the rising full moon and the pastel hues the glacier are reflecting back. Whew! What a spectacular night!
How could I not venture out on such a calm night! After a brief recline, I scooted down horizontal on the platform. Snuggling into bed I zipped up my bag to my neck and the bivy most of the way, leaving my face exposed so I can star gaze. Pillow puffed clouds had drifted in covering most of the sky.
The four stars I most wanted to see were playing hide and seek. Finally, all were in view at once – my first (overdue!) sighting of the Southern Cross this year. Usually, I make the initial sighting of this special southern hemisphere constellation in Santiago or Punta Arenas Chile. It was cloudy during my travel in Chile, now I sadly think Chile is in chaos in the aftermath of the earthquake. By choice, I am sleeping outside. I wonder how many in Chile are doing so because they have no other choice. I vow to follow-up on a message a longtime Palmer family member sent urging donations of help to our southern friends through an Oregon based agency Mercy Corps or the American Red Cross.
I allowed myself to drift asleep to the sounds of white noise Antarctica: Hero Inlet lapping on the rocks just below my room, the snap, crackle and pop of floating ice chunks, the occasional rumbles of the glacier up inlet, the flit-flit of bird wings and elephant seals grunting and snoring. Ahh – polar pastoral. Hours later, a brightening eastern sky and pink light re-exposing the majesty of Humphries Heights heralds a new day. Stretching up and unzipping out of my warm bed, I look forward to the adventures to come before I return to this simple room.