||Who We Are
We are Jim and Lisa Mastro.
Both of us have felt that inexplicable pull that draws people to the southernmost continent, and between the two of us we have over 102 months in Antarctica. That's 8.5 years at the bottom of the Earth. It's hard to explain the `why' of that to someone who's never been there, but perhaps a little personal history will help.
I (Jim) first went to Antarctica in August of 1982. I signed on with ITT Antarctic Services in Paramus, New Jersey and a few weeks later was standing in a hangar in Christchurch, New Zealand, bundled up in thick Antarctic gear, waiting for a plane.
The C-130 Hercules transport took off in the dead of night and headed due south. Through the tiny window in the back of the plane, I could see only the wing, with two of our four powerful engines roaring in the darkness. It was an adventure culled from a dream; I was winging toward some mysterious, exotic land, toward as alien a place as I could imagine. Several hours later, as the early spring sun began to twilight the horizon, I could see the wasteland of ice passing beneath the wings, adding to the allure and the sense of danger.
We landed on a runway of snow and I stumbled out of the still roaring aircraft into a world clothed in ice. My thick, rubber boots squeaked on the bone-dry snow and the air felt like liquid nitrogen in my nostrils. The Transantarctic Mountains, forty miles away in the crystal air, glowed pink and mauve from the light of a sun that had not yet cleared the horizon. Everywhere I looked I saw snow and ice, in as many different hues of blue, violet, and purple I could imagine. It was a scene of magical, desolate beauty. It was something I'll never forget.
I spent the next fourteen months at McMurdo Station, through the hectic summer and the long, dark winter. During the summer I became immersed in my work and in the science, spending long days out on the sea ice (and even longer ones in the decaying lab that was the Eklund Biological Center). During the winter I learned about isolation and deprivation, and more about myself and about human nature than I would have thought possible. At the end of it all, I didn't want to leave.
The world of trees and bugs and cats didn't look the same to me after that year, nor has it since. My entire perception of the planet we live on has been irrevocably altered. And I was hooked on Antarctica. In 1984, I went to isolated Bird Island in the Sub-Antarctic South Atlantic to help a colleague with his study of fur seal physiology. This was another side of Antarctica--not the frozen, barren wasteland of McMurdo Sound but a rich and frenetic oasis of life fueled by the most productive ocean on Earth. It is almost impossible to describe what it is like to be completely surrounded by thousands of penguins, elephant seals, fur seals, albatrosses, skuas, petrels, and prions, all of whom are far too busy with the business of reproduction to care much about the awestruck humans in their midst.
In August of 1985 I returned to McMurdo Station for another 14 months. At the end of that long winter, six weeks before I was due to leave, Lisa walked into the lab. She had jumped at the chance to accompany a science project to the "Ice" for an eight week study of phytoplankton. Four weeks after she arrived, we were inseparable.
We stayed north for the next couple of years, but Antarctica hadn't finished with us. In 1989, we returned south, me to support science in the increasingly decrepit EBC, and Lisa to drive shuttle. In 1990-91, Lisa took over my position in the EBC and I took over management of the scientific dive locker and recompression chamber.
We pretty much spent the next six years with the U.S. Antarctic Program, deploying every year in August (Winfly) and leaving the Ice in February to spend a few weeks in the South Pacific. The only alteration to this schedule came when I deployed to Palmer Station in March of 1995, immediately after leaving McMurdo. Three weeks of traveling for all of two days on station! But I could now say I'd been to all three U.S. stations.
In 1996, Lisa and I decided it was time to move on. I returned as a grantee diver in 1996-97, but it was a short and frenetic stay. On the day I left, I remember standing on the Pegasus runway and looking back over Ross Island. Mount Erebus, towering like a protective god over McMurdo Station, spewed out a long plume of smoke that stretched far to the south. At that moment, Antarctica was as magic and beautiful a place as I had ever known.
It's difficult to sum up everything Antarctica has meant to us, and everything the program has done for us. Lisa dabbled in computer graphics, designing flyers for the weekly science lectures, and learned that she loved it enough to go back to college and make it her career. This web site and her first CD-ROM on Antarctic wildlife are proof of her success.
Antarctica provided me with an opportunity to hone my photographic skills, especially in underwater (or in this case, under ice) photography. I also became an expert in Antarctic diving (for what that's worth up here in the world!) But I also became knowledgeable in general diving safety, dive equipment, recompression chamber technology and operations, and diving medicine. Antarctica (and several trusting and supportive people in positions of authority) allowed me to indulge in my dream of producing and directing stage plays. I learned to operate a ham radio, to run a radio station, play the drums, and survive in a forbidding environment (the McMurdo galley).
Perhaps those are the tangible things. Other aspects of our Antarctic experience, perhaps the most important parts, are as personal and intangible as memories: the brittle, awe inspiring splendor of an ice cave or the endless space and limitless silence of the sea ice on a calm day. I remember sitting at the edge of the sea while curious emperor penguins trundled up to within inches of me, or hiking through Taylor Valley, alone in a vast, rugged and seemingly untouched land. I remember the feeling of descending into the dim and undiscovered world below the ice. There were many times when I saw underwater landscapes that had never before been seen by a human being. Those were the times when I felt like a true explorer.
And then there are the people we met and the friendships we made, friendships that will last a lifetime. I'd love to name them all, but there are far too many. Suffice to say that some of the best people on Earth go south for the (northern) winter, and the percentage of buttheads is very, very low.
Lisa and I will always be Antarcticans. We will always think about our time in that magic, frozen land. And we will always miss it. We may never return, but we are thankful for what it has given us.
Please check out our MastroMedia website for a complete list of multimedia design and communication services.
If you have any questions or comments, we can be contacted at:
Lisa & Jim Mastro
12 Cherokee Street
Dover, NH 03820
websites: mastromedia.com & antarcticaonline.com