The Spirit of Mawson - Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013 - 2014

Australasian Antarctic Expedition

Day 14 – A Christmas Tree

Posted by Elizabeth - 21 December 2013

Today dawned bright and clear. We are sitting at the fast ice edge with Adelies lining the edge near the ship. The sea is covered in sheets of translucent ice that have formed overnight in between the various ice floes that lie scattered about. The horizon is lined with large bergs that look for all the world like a freight train awaiting instructions, as the light is behind them and they are in shadow. The view from our cabin window is breathtaking. There are clouds above the horizon that range from white that reflect the ice through shades of grey that reflect the sea. Framed by the window is a large patch of turquoise sea that reflects a patch of blue sky among the clouds.

There is one lone Emperor looking lost, it calls plaintively, dips then raises its head and waits for a response that never comes. A few Adelies come up to it from time to time and the small group looks like a family – Mum or Dad and the kids. After a while the Emperor wanders off to a new spot and calls again. It is heart-wrenching to watch. Every now and again a small group of Adelies break the new ice surface and swim and call like ducks, paddling along with their heads and tails raised, nattering to each other. Then, a decision having been reached, they dive in unison. It is anyone’s guess whether they will resurface somewhere else and swim and talk again or leap from the sea onto the ice edge - in hot pursuit of one another one moment or singularly the next. Ah, the challenges of photography.

After breakfast Erik supervised yet another ice core drilling by ever-willing helpers – this one right beside the ship, so all those who haven’t had a chance to participate could watch and photograph this exciting event. I’m sure that’s not why the site was chosen. Another salinity and temperature probe was launched, this one from the same ice edge beside the ship. Sean lay on the ice with his head and arms over the edge holding the launcher. We all had cameras trained and cocked in case an Orca rose beside him but no such luck. We left the ice edge once all were back on board and set sail for the Mertz Glacier.

Today is special to me for a number of reasons. It is the Summer Solstice which is also my Birthday and I presented the ship with a piece of the Loneliest Tree in the World to be a small living Christmas tree on the ship.

This last point warrants explanation. This famous tree sits in Camp Cove, at the top of Perseverance Harbour on Campbell Island in the sub-Antarctic region below New Zealand. It is in the Guinness Book of records as the Most Isolated Tree in the World because it is the most distant from other members of its species. It is a Spruce which belongs in the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere.

Herein lies a tale. It is documented to be about 100 years old but the cores taken by a Dendrochronologist (tree ring specialist) are only 67 years old.  He has speculated that the people stationed at the Base nearby may have chopped out the central leader to use as a Christmas tree in 1946 and maybe in other, previous years. Hence the tree’s current shape of many large 67-year-old side leaders, each with their own branches, but no proper central leader. A very unnatural shape for a Spruce – the traditional Christmas tree.

The piece was sawn off by me on Leg 1 for identification purposes. I have kept it alive since then in our ensuite for the specific purpose of it being a small Christmas tree on the ship during Leg 2 - hence tying Legs 1 and 2 together. It has grown six inches (150mm) in the two and a half weeks in the bathroom despite being deprived of light and splashed with shower water twice a day. I chose to keep it a secret until today as I have become attached to it because both it and I began life in 1946. Also, this expedition is celebrating the centenary of Mawson’s return from the 1911-13 AAE, and the tree this small piece came from is 100 years old. It was planted about the same time Mawson and his men sailed past.

Merry Christmas, Elizabeth Wiedemann