Yesterday, we had a funeral for our friend here. It seems like a long time since he died in order to have a funeral, I know. But here is what happened...His death was a surprise, and the normal procedure is to store the body in the cold somewhere until it can be flown out. They put him on a sled and stashed him in a arch, kind of out of sight, as to not spook anyone that might work in there doing rounds and such..
Some of us were thinking about a week later, that this was wholly unsatisfactory, and was not treating our friend with the proper respect, after all, he came here to study the sky, at least he could be put to rest under the aurora and stars. Let's build him a casket, and bury him out at the pole for the rest of the winter.
OK, I don't have much experience building caskets, and I thought we could do it in 10 days or so...not.
First we had to go out and find the wood, which is kind of difficult..it's dark, and the snow has been blowing over the lumber berm. We found some oak planks...rough. Found the planer/jointer, and prepped the wood, that is a pretty big deal in itself...rough lumber to furniture quality.
And so a team of volunteers during off hours made a beautiful casket...it's really sweet. All Oak with decorative trim all routed smooth, and an awesome grain and finish....copper rails with brass brackets, polished to a mirror finish, and a padded and upholstered interior. And a plaque inscribed to him with a brass inlay of the constellation Scorpio. It weighs, I estimate, around 250 lbs., and is quite a work of art. We are very proud of it. One neat aspect is that we scraped up a lot of parts from stuff that normally wouldn't be used for this purpose.... Plumbing pipe, and tablecloth, and bearing bronze, eggcrate bedding foam..we had limited stains and finishes, and we had to set up a wood shop, since the old one was dismantled because the station is in transition of rebuild. Our carpenter in charge of directing us has a broken right wrist and arm and sprained left wrist. Lots of people helped...it took a month to build it.
Yesterday was the day of the big move. A group had gone out on Saturday in -102F temps and dug a grave near the geographic pole. The location was a taxiway a few years back and was pretty hard digging.
We placed Rodney in the casket and carried him to dome entrance arch. There the casket was strapped onto a Nansen sled. The main doors were opened to expose the 15 ft drift wall that has accumulated. The tractor digs its way in monthly, and our walking path curves off to the left, following the contour of the drift up to the surface of the plateau. This was really a very surreal scene. The arch lights were off. It was very cold and dark, with lots of vapor and ice forming on peoples faces and masks. We are a motley crew dressed up our extreme weather gear, working together by flashlight..there are nearly 50 of us...and 25 or so gather ropes to pull and push our 450lb load...our friend, up to the surface...its a descent grade, but no problem for our cooperation. The snow wall, and the dark, the red and white flashlight beams, and the vapor and ice crystals made it into a surreal scene, it was beautiful.
At the pole we placed him into the ice grave, with a great deal of cooperation and teamwork. Two people spoke. Simple and elegant, and definitely "cool". Rodney would think so.
I feel very good about it. I am proud to have given him this respect. He was a good friend. I am proud that we all worked together to make this happen. I am proud that our community here made this happen.
This place is harsh, but in its extremes there is also beauty. The aurora and incredible sky can be amazing. And now our friend is laid to rest, albeit temporarily, under that sky.