There is a Palmer Station brochure that is made available to passengers on the cruise ships that call here at the middle of the summer. I have a copy of it taped up on the door to my laboratory at UAB. The title is “Palmer Station: A Community for Science.”
I have always loved that brochure title. I find it to be very appropriate description of this wonderful place. You’ve read some about this in other of our posts. Palmer truly is a community of people – of friends – working together to support scientific research.
Part of being a member of the Palmer community is taking care of our shared home. With a normal maximum of 44 people on station, there is no room for someone dedicated to clean up after the rest. We all pitch in to clean up after ourselves.
I am writing this on a Monday evening. Monday is Maggie’s and my night to help clean up the kitchen and dining room (“galley”) after dinner. Everyone signs up for this one night a week. It is called “GASH” which is a Navy term, actually an acronym for “galley and scullery (dish cleaning area) help.”
The other thing we do once each week is general clean up around the station. It is called “House Mouse” for reasons that I do not know.
Every Saturday the station stops other work at 2:00 PM and everyone gathers in the galley for House Mouse. If a science project needs to be in the field on Saturday afternoon, they do not come in for House Mouse but rather get cleaning jobs assigned that they can do later in the day when they are back.
There are lots of House Mouse jobs. Some easier and some harder. Some take more time and some take less. There is a general station meeting at 3:30 every Saturday, so none of the jobs take more than an hour and a half.
At 2:00 the station Administrative Coordinator briefs everyone on anything special going on that day. Right now, our “Admin” is Kerry Kells. Kerry has already prepared half-sheets of paper with the jobs listed on them along with a list of tasks that each job entails. She folds each in half, mixes them up as completely as possible, and puts them into a brown pottery container.
After the briefing, Kerry holds the pot up in the air and everyone takes turns pulling out a job. Whatever you draw that day is yours. You are not allowed to look at it and put it back. You are allowed to trade jobs with someone else if they are willing. It is completely egalitarian. Regardless of your role otherwise on station, you are as likely to be cleaning a bathroom as anyone else.
Most of the jobs have more than one person assigned. The job that has the most is kitchen clean up. This involves much more detailed cleaning than happens every night during GASH. For example, shelves are emptied of their contents and thoroughly cleaned. Toasters and the juice dispenser are disassembled and cleaned. Lots of other specific jobs that the cooks want to be done that week get done. Even though the kitchen always has more people assigned to it than any other task, it is always the thing that takes longest. Usually right up until the station meeting. Pulling kitchen duty is my least favorite House Mouse chore because of the time involved. Most of the other jobs take 45 to 60 minutes.
I won’t list all the other jobs because it would take too long and I’d certainly forget some. Pretty much every public space has one or more folks assigned to clean it. The labs, the hallways, the bathrooms, the storerooms, the gym, and the lounge. Most jobs are done every week while others (often called “deep clean” jobs) do not need to be done that often and are only assigned every few weeks. I’ve put photos of people doing a few of these jobs on our Flickr site with the thumbnails of them over on the right of this page.
There is a job called “mash and grind” where you help the waste technician put trash into the industrial size trash compactor and, one-by-one, put glass bottles and other glass trash into a large grinder device that turns them into tiny bits which compact together efficiently for transport north. That is actually kind of fun! Another job where you get to use (somewhat less unusual) power tools is to pressure wash the floor mats from the kitchen. Unfortunately, the photos I took of these did not come out well so I have not put them up on Flickr.
Regardless of the job one gets, all are pitching in equally to keep our community a clean and healthy place to live and work. Working together for these communal tasks definitely helps build the sense among us all of being a true community and not just a group of people who happen to be living in the same place at the same time. We are taking care of our home away from home.
In most places you wouldn’t think that cleaning a bathroom or mopping a floor would be a social activity. Palmer is a special place, though. And everyone pitching in together for many things every day, including early Saturday afternoons, is part of what makes it so.