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UAB in Antarctica

Craig and I dove at Norsel Point the other day.  Our tenders were Chuck and our newest team member/tender in training – Ryan Centko.  Ryan sailed into Palmer on 16 May, aboard the cargo-laden RV Laurence M. Gould, the night of the Ride of Silence.  This was Ryan’s second day out in the zodiac being schooled in the ways of tender tending and confident boat handling.

Ryan is a quick study.  He seems to be mastering his new skills with ease – apparently the way he must with all his courses.  As a sophomore at the University of South Florida, he embraced with zeal a class in organic chemistry.  Not only did he ace this oft difficult subject, he decided that he would rather pursue a degree in chemistry, rather than continue with his pre-med curriculum.  Ryan’s instructor was none other than Dr. Bill Baker, the project’s natural products chemist. 

For the last two years Ryan has worked in Bill’s USF lab assisting Alan and other graduate students.  Bill offered Ryan the opportunity to continue assisting Alan here at Palmer Station.  In an earlier entry (The Glass Ceiling) I described that my undergraduate advisor and biology professor Dr. Mary Alice McWhinnie hired me in her lab my senior year and brought me to Antarctica months after earning my bachelors degree. This is sort of déjà vu/history repeats itself coincidence!  I thought it a wild opportunity for a new graduate- but wow – what an opportunity for a rising senior in college!  Ryan is a traditional college student and as such is a tender 20 years old!  He is Palmer Station’s youngest resident this season. 

As Ryan was piloting the zodiac back to Palmer, the overcast sky and gentle snowfall displaced my post-dive cold and discomfort with thoughts of another time.  I pondered how it happened:  when I came to Palmer that first time in 1980, I was the youngest on station celebrating my 22nd birthday while in residence!  Now I am among the oldest on station – certainly the oldest female.  I sifted through the flakes (and wrinkles) of time for only a few seconds before I warmed to the thought that 27 years later, now months into Antarctic trip number (sweet) 16, that I cannot complain about the years and experiences to which I have been so privileged.    It has been a great ride and I sure hope it continues.  I hope this trip for Ryan leads him on a lifetime journey and adventure in science as it has for me.

Easing back on the throttle as we approached some brash ice eased me back to reality.  Ahead through the speckles of snowflakes was Palmer Station seemingly dwarfed by the LMG tied alongside the dock.   I shivered as my chill returned before drifting back to the warm memories of my first season again when Palmer, like me, was still in its early years, before the growth spurts of new buildings, blossoming additions, sprouting antennae and mushrooming domes.  Palmer Station was picturesquely simple with two boxy Ford motor blue buildings, the green hulled wooden support RV Hero – all 125 ft of her- at the dock, and hugged by an  extensive and close glacier.  Much has changed as Palmer and the ship support has matured over the intervening years.

Chuck took over the tiller to navigate our zodiac around and under the mooring lines of the LMG.  I was dive weary and also memory weary!  During that short zodiac ride, in Tolkien fashion I went there and back again, like the intrepid Bilbo Baggins.  I am so happy to be in this polar shire of Palmer Station.  Particularly that morning, I was happy to be back in the warm and toasty dive locker and ready for second breakfast after all that traveling. 

Thursday, Ryan will celebrate 21st birthday.  I wish him many years of equally epic ways to celebrate the beginning of another year of adventure.