Merry Christmas

Couple of hours ago I took part in an incredible time of Christmas celebration at our Westside Kings Church here in Calgary, Alberta. It was the first of four services at our church building, an old curling rink, quonset hut style. Maybe 800 attended from the very small to the, ahem, a little older. Three more services were to follow. A busy time.  It was simply an opportunity for the generations to gather, and we sang popular classics as well as the traditional hymns. We reflected on Jesus Christ as the light of there world, of hope and new beginnings.

For me the clincher came with the end of service singing of Silent Night, candles and all. It’s the song that always gets me and has done so for the past 46 years.  It is a vivid memory of hundreds of men standing in a quonset hut at the US McMurdo Sound base in Antarctica. The song ended an all faiths service and although not immediate it took root and the Christian life became my life some six years later.

Christ does give us a new beginning, a hope in the future and the faith to overcome. I know it is tough for some and I think especially of a former colleague who, with his teenage children, face their first Christmas without their wife and mother. She died just a few weeks back after a harrowing eight month hospitalization.

May the very spirit of Christmas invade your home and life today.

Peace.

Christmas market

BoothWe’re into the final three days of hectic activity at Calgary’s Spruce Meadows Christmas Marketplace.  For the third year running Lois and I have a booth selling my books and Lois’ artistic creations — penguin calendars, framed penguin art prints, and yes, penguin book bags.

My two books have sold well the first two weekends of this fabulous marketplace which boasts more than 275 exhibitors spread throughout a variety of halls and kiosks. My first book Tide Cracks and Sastrugi: An Antarctic Summer in 1968-1969 continues to sell remarkably well and the new book, my novel Finding Dermot attracts attention for both personal reading and gift-giving. I’m thrilled at the attention our little booth gets and the large number of happy buyers who continue into the market with a book in their bag.

A Very Windy Finale

Cold, the cold reminiscent of my Antarctic travels welcomed the happy crowds to this Spruce Meadows Christmas Marketplace a week ago. Today though, the final and sixth day of Christmas gift buying, opened with 40mph warm winds tossing the artificial hedges here and there and sending stock from the outdoor booths flying across the courtyard.

Christmas shoppers came early and within the hour of opening we’d sold our first book of the day. A happy rumble flooded through our barn as people moved from checking out the reindeer at the entrance (yep, all with the famous names given by Santa) through our booths to the next hall. The merry mood was enhanced further by choral singers swinging through singing the songs of the season. Continue reading

The presses are rolling

Ya-a-a-a-y. T’is done and the presses are rolling. I might be feeling just a wee bit excited right now. There were  many times this summer when I thought Tide Cracks and Sastrugi would never make it. I got distraught and frustrated. Thanks to the encouragement of good friends and family , an inspiring editor and an on target publisher, books are being being printed and bound. I picked up the test batch today and all looks good. Nice thing too, is that I already have orders.

My publisher has set up a couple of  launch signings: Cafe Books at Canmore, Alberta on November 12, 1-3 pm and Chapters Chinnok store on Macleod Trail SW, Calgary, on November 20, 1-3pm.

I have captured a booth as Old Antarctic Explorer in Reindeer Alley at The famous Spruce Meadows Christmas Marketplace over two weekends, November 18-20 and November 25-27.

I’m trying to get to grips with social media and got a redial surprise the other day when I added LinkedIn to my iPhone. I found this recommendation from the book’s indexer Tia Leschke: “I indexed Graeme’s book Tide Cracks and Sastrugi: An Antarctic Summer of 1968-69. I think this was the most interesting book I’ve indexed so far. I went right along with him as I worked (from the comfort of my desk). I had to stop myself from getting lost in the story and forgetting to index.”

Coupla tech specs:  the book is 7 inches by 10 inches, contains 290 pages, something like 130 pictures including about 100 colour pages.

Centennial year on the ice

Ready to launch, me with the rollaway banner we';ve created for the book launch and signings in November.

This is the beginning of October. But lets hike back 100 years and imagine the tension around two expedition camps — Framheim at the Bay of Whales on the eastern edge of the Barrier ice  and Terra Nova at Cape Evans on the western side of Ross Island in McMurdo Sound. At Framheim, the Norwegian Roald Amundsen was champing at the bit wanting to begin his run at the South Pole. At Cape Evans, the British Captain Robert Scott was methodically preparing his teams (ponies and motor toboggans) for his quest to reach the South Pole . Each party wanted to be first.

The challenge between these two expeditions has defined south polar history. Amundsen and his team returned victorious. Scott and his men succumbed in their tent in a bitter Antarctic blizzard, just 12 miles short of a plentiful supply depot. Earlier, and filled with disappointment, Scott diaried at the Pole:  “Great God! this is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without reward of priority.” Amundsen had beaten the Brits by some 34 days.

When Amundsen first saw the sun in late August after the long polar night, he was itching to get underway, believing that Spring would be something akin to his Arctic adventures. The Antarctic really does not have those shoulder Spring and Fall seasons.  It’s either sun or no sun.  He hung around Framheim and believing warmer temperatures were coming headed out on September 8 in something like -41degC. The mercury went the other way, plummeting to -57degC. On September 12, his team headed back home quickly but it did cost them a few dogs and almost the lives of a couple of his men.

The Norwegians waited till October 19 ( NZST time) before finally pointing their dog teams south to the Pole.

Meanwhile, over at Cape Evans, Scott and his men continued preparing their ponies and testing motor toboggans. The motor group left on October 24 and the ponies headed south on November 1. At this point Amundsen was already some 300 km ahead.

Fast forward 57 years to the 1968-69 New Zealand Antarctic Research Programme when October  was also an important month for my colleagues and I. In a year of economic restraint, our task was to assemble a tractor train and head northwest on the frozen surface of McMurdo Sound to the dry Wright Valley with materials to assemble New Zealand’s first mainland Antarctic winter over station. We billed ourselves as the last of the great tractor trains — a 12-year-old Tucker Sno-Cat and a D4 Caterpillar bulldozer each pulling three sledges, and two track-fitted Ferguson farm tractors, each hauling a rubber tired trailer.

This remarkable event is highlighted in my book Tide Cracks and Sastrugi: An Antarctic summer of 1968-69 which will be available through Amazon.com and others in late November. Copies will be printed here in Calgary and available through graemekc@telus.net. The B&W version sells for $25 CAD and the colour $35 CAD.

As the northern hemisphere slowly wraps up for winter, the southern hemisphere opens up to summer. It ‘s the same on the continent of Antarctica. But this year holds special significance  as a centennial year to reflect on those who pioneered the way.

Independent slacker

My WordPress log reminds me of how many days it has been since I last posted something to this blog (ouch!). For those who at one time may have followed progress on my book, I apologize for the procrastination. Having joined the ranks of the independent to self publish my book, I became involved in a process that started to consume me. I also found that the warm sunshine of our northern summer was an easy distraction and an escape from the tedium of process and organization in publishing a book.

Self publishing is not simply a case of writing, slapping in a couple of pictures and heading to the local print shop to get a few copies of the greatest manuscript since Somerset Maugham.

My book, Tide Cracks and Sastrugi: An Antarctic summer of 1968-69, is in the final stages before printing. Getting to this point followed a well defined trail laid out so patiently by my publisher Kim of Polished Publishing Group (PPG).When I thought I was near the end of the writing part, I sent it to my editor and she worked it, then worked me over to get it right and to make the script into what it is. Sheila’s builds and suggestions were amazing and she extracted much new material from the hidden places of my brain to complete a story of a very personal journey. She found in me linkages which would build value into the story.

Her valued advice meant I spent many a Spring day on major rewrites. This preceded whittling about a thousand photographs down to the handful that could be incorporated into the book. Because the book deals with just one small life on the frozen Antarctic desert at the end of the first decade of modern exploration, I really considered my old photographs necessary to illustrate the conditions of the time. That winnowing of a memorable collection took some time and while I started out at a limit of 80 pictures, I ended up with 130. PPG’s designer John proved to be a terrific ally in putting visual sense between the covers. I love his cover design and the treatment he has given Tide Cracks.

The back (left) and front cover

From weeks in the design phase, the book passed to another in the PPG team, Tia whom I now regard as Indexer Supremo. I was excited about the results of her work, the depth and cross referencing outclasses the content of the book!  Before this, I hadn’t recognized the art and expertise involved in indexing. To me an index was always something at the end of the book. I didn’t have a clue as to how it got there and was very relieved to know that this was an activity I would not have to sweat through.

With the index added, the book headed to the Print on Demand folk for a hard copy. When that returned to the publisher, it was Jen’s turn. She is a professional proofreader, combing through the text with fresh eyes and a fresh approach to ensure the book meets a totally professional standard.

Her changes are now being incorporated and in about a week I will get to see my first hard copy. I’m excited. I’ll get one last read through before signing off with the Publisher and receiving the files for printing.

I promise I’ll be back in a few days with an update.

Gateway to Antarctica 2

One of the final “Antarctic” places to visit before we left Christchurch, the New Zealand gateway to the south, was the city’s Botanic Gardens. And on a beautiful, very hot and sunny Sunday afternoon we picnicked on the lawn with family and friends before heading into an adjoining gallery of the Canterbury Museum to view a remarkable touring exhibition of  pioneer photographs from what is known simply as the Royal Collection.

First off though, the gardens housed a Magnetic Observatory  established in 1901 to assist Captain Robert Falcon Scott with his magnetic surveys in Antarctica. It was used by other early explorers and operated at the Gardens until 1969 when it was moved further outside the city. Since the 1957-58 International Geophysical Year this observatory as well as observatories at Scott Base and Apia, Samoa, (now operated by the Samoan government) provide real-time magnetic data to International Data Centres.

The Royal Exhibition, known as the Heart of the Great Alone, was magnificent.Lois and I toured around the photographic displays of works by Herbert Ponting from the Scott’s British Antarctic  Expedition of 1910-1913 and the Frank Hurley  photographs from Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Imperial Transantarctic Expedition.  There was also lots of memorabilia on display too. It was an interesting piece of time travel for me, having walked in a few of their footsteps around McMurdo Sound. At first I thought it was a bit ho-hum and I was a little disappointed until I realized I have been close to these pictures, stories and records for a number of years and had seen or read pretty well all of it. For Lois though, and others, it was a very focussed look at the trials and tribulations of early Antarctic explorers and the legacy they left for those that followed in the latter part of last century to today.

We missed the adjoining Antarctic Museum within the Canterbury Museum this visit having made a thorough tour just two years ago. The city has deep relationships with all disciplines in Antarctica and this had added to the cultural and economic  wealth.

Before leaving New Zealand we visited with Old Antarctic Explorers and families in Auckland including Robin Foubister (pictured) leader of my 1968-69 New Zealand Antarctic Research Program.

To cap the whole New Zealand trip off Robin took us out to a gannet colony at Muriwai. Like the gannets, we too are migratory– they go to Australia after the breeding season while we headed back to our home in winter Canada.

Back In Boots

My feet are back in boots. Once again I tread the ice, snow and slush with sealed up feet. Its what happens when winter is all around. Yet, just two weeks ago my bare tootsies felt the wonderful (ouch) heat of ironsands beaches and the delightful rush of seawater smoothing over them as the waves rippled up the shore. I could gently wiggles my toes and feel my feet sink into the sand. Ahhh, that has to be something close to bliss.
Lois and I have just returned to our Canada home after 16 glorious days in New Zealand, the land of our birth and early life. For me, most of the journey was about business, to catch up with Antarctic contacts and friends to get this book of mine completed. In between and along the way we delighted in the company of family and friends. The bonus in all this was ample sunshine, sunburn, the beach, little clothing, semi-shod feet and a neato tan which is slowly slipping down the drain now. In the time we were there we only struck one bad day of very high winds and rain which caused a bit of destruction in some parts of the country known to us as Aotearoa –the land of the long white cloud.
Before we headed to Christchurch and the International Antarctic Centre we explored our old hometown of New Plymouth, a deep sea port on the west coast of the North Island. What a delightful place this old colonial settlement has become. We have been back many times over the years but this is the first time in more than a decade that we have ventured south in their mid-summer. Great ingenuity, foresight, creativity and initiative have transformed our town into one of the nicest places you could hope to visit. Trees and color have replaced tramlines and powerlines. Walkways, open green space, gardens and bridges have replaced the railway yards in the centre downtown. The changes over the past 40 odd years are dramatic. I wanted to spend a lot more time there but airline scheduling around aeropoints at this time of the year meant they were in charge of the dates. Still, in coming months we will amass another round for another summertime visit.
The first thing we did was to shed travelling clothing from minus 30 here to the plus 25 or so there. In shorts, a tee and runners we headed to the coastal walkway which stretches a magnificent 14 kilometres or so from the port through suburbs and the centre of town to beaches on the northern side of the district. The city has truly capitalized on this mostly rocky seaside frontage. The nice thing is the concrete walkway follows the terrain up down and around. It is open to the sea for the full enjoyment of being close to the waves. It is truly a walkers, joggers, cyclists, paradise. And it is accessible from almost anywhere along its length.

Now this is what I call a bridge. The Te Rewa Rewa bridge along the coastal walkway. Reminiscent of a breaking wave or even a whale skeleton, this fantastic structure was, designed, built and funded by local contractors and fabricators in conjunction with the District Council. Like the walkway, it is an award winner. And in the background, Mt Taranaki, at 8260 ft it crowns and majestically rules the province.

(Next: back to Antarctica)

Peace, quiet, focus

This was one of those get-clear-of-the-fray, get-a-little-adventurous times. I left the city and headed south and west to one of my favorite places in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. It was a beautiful drive south with clear blue skies and sunshine. Temperature around zero  getting to as high as 9c as I headed west to the Highwood Pass. Here, in our little A-frame camper, I’m getting the fix I need and renewed oomph to get on with The Book. I’ve been at the keyboard for a couple of hours and the temperature is dropping, the skies are clouding and by the time I get to go home I suspect I’ll see a snow flurry or two. I wanted peace and quiet and a fresh outlook and I have it here, about 120km out of the city surrounded by snow-capped mountains, the silent spruce forests and naked aspen along the river. There’s a bit of snow on the ground, a sign that winter is slowly closing in. The stream is still chuckling over the rocks and ice crystals lace the banks, slowly broadening towards the middle. The wind has dropped but there is still enough breeze to chill the fingers and nose.  I am snug and warm in my den on wheels. It has a small propane furnace to chase the cold. Coffee on the stove, baked beans and toast for lunch.

This afternoon I cleared my head of accumulated junk and found renewed interest in piecing a story together of my mid-1900s life in Antarctica, the opposite end of the globe from my home here in Canada.

Highwood River Valley, Alberta, Canada

I’m armed with the notes and suggestions from my mentor and friend and professional editor Sheila Bender (www.writingitreal.com) who lives in Port Townsend, WA. Her first edit calls me to reach deeper into the memory tank to keep reader interest. This is the tough part of writing and at the same time the most satisfying. I see Sheila’s recommendations adding vitality and life to my rambling prose. I am excited at what I’m doing. The tough part if keeping focus and staying with. In the past few weeks Lois has been encouraging me to get on with it and get with the program. My response has been well, I am thinking about it…trying to recall stuff in my personal life that will add the interest Sheila suggests.

Today has been great and given me the kick I needed. Now I want to get back to the city before dark.  I may get another couple of trips out here before the real snow flies. Thankfully, the signs I had earlier in the day have blown away. The skies have cleared and I’ll have a great drive home. It is beautiful country. When this valley does get the full winter snow, it will be closed to human traffic till the Spring, leaving the meadows and the solitude to the resident population of bear, moose, deer, cougar, mountain sheep and the like. They will get to enjoy a winter of peace and quiet.

A Prayer for Christchurch

Well, I sure am sad. After spending the past couple of days reviewing all that is unfolding in Christchurch, New Zealand, in the aftermath of a monstrous earthquake, I am humbled by the power of people as they dust off and set to getting their city right again.

We are so thankful that no-one has been seriously hurt in this big shakeup but it is mindblowing to review the destruction in this very beautiful place on Planet Earth.

Christchurch is the garden city and second largest city in New Zealand. I have never lived there but have visited often, the most recent being two years ago for my New Zealand Antarctic Research Program 1968-69 reunion.

A plaque in the sidewalk recognizing the efforts of the New Zealand men and women who have worked in Antarctica over the 50 years from 1957 to 2007.

For more than a 100 years now the city has been the jumping off point to polar expeditions heading to McMurdo Sound. It continues to be the staging point for deployment of US personnel, supplies and equipment and therefore will hold a special place in the hearts of many around the globe.

It is very sad to see the wonderful architecture being ripped to the ground as crews remove battered, shredded buildings in the call for safety.  Workers and volunteers are tired after days of tough work, long hours and the psychological battle to stay chipper in spite of the more than 100 aftershocks. Businesses overnight have been simply wiped out. What shape and color is recovery?

My first visit to Christchurch was to compete in the 1958 New Zealand Surf Lifesaving Championships. For me as a teenage surfie it was a wonderful experience even though my key event was washed out due to very rough sea conditions. Forty-two years ago I journeyed through Christchurch on my way to a summer on the ice.

My career has taken me to the city many times in the intervening years and Lois and I are scheduled to make our next visit in January to attend a Royal Exhibition of historic Antarctic photography.

I am thankful that my Christchurch friends are safe and well and they took time away from the drama around them to send me and other international pals a note.

I can but pray for the city and its people and for strength for those who toil to make a difference.

Couple websites worth noting are:

www.tvnz.co.nz

www.stuff.co.nz

Christchurch the Garden City.

Summertime and the weather is freezing

Two years ago I figured I should put into book form the adventures I experienced some 40 years ago as information officer photographer with the New Zealand Antarctic Research Programme.

This was something I had swept into the broom cupboard of life experiences a long time back but as my grandchildren grew and my wife and daughters continued with their promptings “to put it on paper” I reached the point where I at least dragged the boxes of stuff out from under the stairs.

I looked through the clippings, found my old notebook, and looked at a few mouldy photo slides, Maybe there was something in all this I could tell the grandchildren about. Around this time a couple of my fellow intrepid explorers from the great adventure of 1968-69 came up with the idea we might have a reunion.

All well and good, I thought. They were all in New Zealand while I was firmly established with a business and family in the prairie province of Alberta, Canada. Still, I thought it was a great idea and almost flippantly suggested we could time this event to the 40th anniversary of our small team taking on the responsibility of a year’s scientific activity with the Antarctic Division of New Zealand’s Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (now just known simply as Antarctica New Zealand, but still a government entity).  This boiled down to the fact that we had less than 12 months to find all our colleagues and organize an event in Christchurch, New Zealand, in mid-October 2008.

While all this was happening with the aid of modern technology, I set about putting together a booklet just about the voyage aboard HMNZS Endeavour eight of us summer only types had from McMurdo to Lyttelton. That very stormy voyage home via Campbell Island and the Antipodes Islands was an adventure in itself and creating a booklet around that proved to be a great deal of fun. My family and friends loved it. I printed off a bunch “for the reunion”.

We were very fortunate, due to some extraordinary digging, to locate and contact all the members of our party as well as a large number of the university teams and support people who made our time on the ice most memorable. And being together over three days, most of us seeing each other for the first time since 1969, gave me the push I needed to write my book.

It started out as just a summer’s tale of adventure, with a whole bunch of pictures. But as I got into it and shared the story with others, the book took on a life of its own. I now labor on, researching, recalling events, time and places, and bugging the life out of my old colleagues for long forgotten details. I’d targeted this past October as the due date for completion. That has passed and it will not be completed before Christmas. Perhaps I can complete it this winter with an April publication date. I’ll work to that deadline and see what can happen.

Last May I shared a couple of chapters with fellow writers and faculty at a Writing It Real (www.writingitreal.com) conference and received huge amounts of encouragement, advice and direction. We have another conference coming up in April 2010 in Port Townsend, WA.

I wonder what I’ll be able to put on the table this time!

(a continuing story…)