Winter Field Training Officer Maddie delivers an expose on 'The Beard Life'

The Beard Life

A winter season in Antarctica, you may be not be surprised to hear, is quite a unique way to spend a year!

Between the wild weather, the opportunities and constraints of station life, and the unrelenting ‘A-factor’, there is no shortage of chances to learn, grow, and be challenged. As one of just three women on station this season, I feel I have gained a unique insight and perspective on a rather unexpected aspect of station life - the beard.

Let me begin by saying that I did not choose The Beard Life, but alas, it appears that over the last eight months, The Beard Life has indeed chosen me (that is, at least from a beard-bystander’s perspective). And so, as an unwilling observer of this phenomenon, let me share with you some of my 'Notes from the field: the beard edition'.

It is a point of tradition, experimentation, pride, or perhaps just laziness, which drive many men on station to grow beards during their time here. The thing about beards is, they really creep up on you. The cycle begins at pre-departure, when wintering expeditioners take part in important fire training, which requires a clean shaven face to ensure an adequate seal on our breathing apparatus. The men folk of the wintering team arrive, fresh faced and clean cut, ready to begin their inductions into their fire team roles. Once the training is complete however, most seem to return to their regular grooming routines. The summer season comes and goes with most maintaining some semblance of their former faces, however, it is not long after we really settle into the swing of our lives down here that things start to change.

I think it was sometime around April that I began to ponder such important questions as: “Where did all the chins go?” and “Who is that guy that looks like Dylan’s viking avatar?” What begins, innocently enough, as the result of some relaxed personal grooming, steadily morphs into some kind of tattered chin curtain which, although hinting at the possibility of something greater, is in reality not yet worthy of The Beard title. Undeterred, they push through this awkward, ungainly, transitional phase, appearing out the other side truly transformed. Like a butterfly, they emerge…actually, it’s more like one of those massive, brown, hairy moths that you find flapping around under your verandah lights at night. Yep, that’s more like it.

From here the sheer momentum of The Beard really creates a life of its own, and some wearers begin to experiment with new styles, with variations on the moustache being a popular pathway. A fun hobby of the non-beard wearer is watching the beard-wearers perform a kind of ‘cutlery Tae Kwon Do’ as they attempt to consume food without losing 80% of the meal to the surrounding face pelt. It is around this time that I also notice I have gained a new skill! A Sherlock Holmes-like ability to determine the last person to sit in any seat at the mess, based purely on the beard hairs left in their wake on the table. I know - lucky me!

And of course, I am truly lucky, because in addition to The Beards, we have also been treated to a near non-stop stream of spectacular sunsets, auroras, star filled skies, blazing moons, and calm winter mornings followed by ferocious Casey blizzards.

- Maddie (Casey Winter Senior Field Training Officer).