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Home  >  Peer Work
9. Working in a Place
By Gretchen Legler
Genre: Non-fiction
Year: 1997 Category: Student Examples

Writing Sample:

The banana sled pulled easily over frozen Lake Hoare as scientist Wayne Pollard and I headed from the science hut on the edge of the lake to the towering edge of the glacier about 100 yards away. The sled was empty so it bumped and thumped, making the sounds plastic does on ice, as I pulled it by a thick cord. We were on our way to what the scientists at Lake Hoare call the "iceberry patch" to get "iceberries," chunks of ice to make into drinking water for the camp. This was one of the many chores that needed to be done at this science camp every day. Lake Hoare is one of many lakes in Antarctica's Dry Valleys that is permanently frozen. In parts around the edge of the lake, where the water DOES melt during the austral summer (between December and January), the ice on Lake Hoare is as smooth as an ice skating pond, and deep bluey green. On the parts of the lake that remain frozen all year, the ice is broken, rolling, full of hummocks and fissures. The land around the lake at Lake Hoare, like much of the land in the Dry Valleys, is dry, exposed soil with no plants on it but for some mosses and lichens. Around the edges of the lake itself the soil is sandy and you might imagine, with the sun up and warm, as it is at this time of year, that you are at a beach somewhere. When I looked at the mountains around me as we headed across the lake, I thought they looked like any mountains I've seen, but with no clothes-no spruce trees, no willow, no tall grasses, no berry bushes, no Devil's club. Just rock and sand-some in the shape of round hills and some in the shape of spiked, craggy spires. The Dry Valleys are an icy cold desert-one of the most extreme deserts in the world. When Wayne and I reached the edge of the lake, where the ice stopped, we parked the sled just near the sandy beach and headed up toward the tall blue wall of the glacier. The ice wall of the Canada glacier rises 100 feet here. On the top it was smooth and slick and at the edge that I stared up at, the ice wall was lined with cracks that shone blue in the morning light. At the foot of the wall, huge blocks of ice had fallen onto the sand. Wayne took his ice ax and pulled it back over his shoulder and aimed the sharp point at the middle of a block. Smash! The block broke in two. He did it again and again, chopping the big block of white blue ice into smaller pieces. After he'd made about 50 carrying-sized pieces of ice from the larger blocks that littered the sand, he pulled special gloves out of his pocket. He explained that on a previous ice collecting trip he'd used gloves that had some residue of diesel fuel on them, which had gotten on the ice and then had gotten in the water. Wayne and I both collected chunks of ice, me balancing them one on top of the other against my chest with my arms wrapped around them. Some loads I had to help balance with my chin pressed against the top chip of ice. The cold on my chin and against my chest felt good. We hauled the ice to the sled, went back up to the pile and collected more, until the sled was full of white-blue shapes, all differently angled and carved. I tried to make sure the ice cubes were all set just right so none would fall off as we towed the sled back across the ice. As I rearranged them, they clunked against one another, making a dull, hard sound. Wayne pulled the sled back, because I couldn't get my footing on the ice. Later in the day I'd figure this out and wear crampons that I tied around my big white boots and that bit into the ice, helping me to keep my traction on the slick surface. Back at the beach below the main science hut, we parked the sled on the sand and carried the chunks of ice up to a wooden rack just outside the front door. Trip after trip, up the small rise from the beach to the hut, the ice bin began to fill and soon was piled neatly with the glacier ice. From there, the ice gets picked out and brought into the hut as it is needed, and plunked down (again with special "ice only" gloves that hang on a line above the heater) into a huge melting pot that sits on top of the heater. The big pot has a spigot on it, so when someone wants water, he or she just turns the tap on. Sometimes, depending on how recently chunks of ice have been dropped into the melter, the water is either hot, lukewarm or icy cold.


In this short piece I tried to write about a kind of work that I have done in this new place, Antarctica, that is unlike any work I've done anywhere else. This work, this everyday labor, this thing that I've done, is unique to this place. In this case, I chose to write about collecting glacier ice to make into drinking water. It's not very exciting work, but it is something that I enjoyed doing and something that is essential to living in this place. I tried to write in detail about the step by step process of collecting the ice, tried to describe the colors of the experience and some of the sensory detail of carrying the ice. I also tried to include a little bit of information about the larger environment that I am in-the name of the glacier, how tall it is, where Lake Hoare is. In a piece like this, no detail is too mundane to include, so even the fact that the sled is plastic is important.

Writing Assignment:

In about 250 words, write in detail about a kind of work that you do that is directly related to place. This can be something you do now, or something you have done. You could write about anything-mowing the lawn, cutting hay, sharpening knives, harvesting your garden. Be sure to write about the process of the work itself, and include some details about the place that you are in. In other words, the focus of this exercise is the work itself, but be sure to relate it to place. Be sure to include sensory details-smells, sounds, textures, colors, even tastes.
Copyright 11.24.97

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