Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I'm almost finished reading Sara Wheeler's book "Terra Incognita": Travels in Antarctica.

Since about third grade, I've had a general infatuation with Antarctica on maps. I would place my finger on where I was on the globe and try to place my other finger on the other side of the earth. It may have had something to do with wanting to get as far away from wherever I was at the time (I later turned into a serial runaway in high school and now my adult skills have allowed me to switch continents). Antarctica was a massive ribbon of white along the bottom of most maps, like the edge of the world, beyond which you'd find ye olde seamonsters. Going to Antarctica is one of the things that has reliably stayed on my list of things do to before I die.

Anyhow, I always thought that there are only two kinds of people that they let
visit Antarctica: scientists and artists (not true actually). But for years this made me think that someone like me would never make it there. But what a way to separate the scientific "clergy" from the lay- give them a whole continent. One thing I enjoyed as a 10 year altar boy was going all over the parts of the church that were off-limits to most people (the balcony, the back rooms, various store rooms). Solemn, quiet, forbidden.

Sara Wheeler was one of the earlier writers to participate in the Antarctic artists program. Her book is about 40% about herself, 30% mechanics of snow life 20% quotes from other famous explorers and 10% taking in nature. I was somewhat surprised that Antarctica is practically money free. Everything is stocked for you and you just take it off the shelf if you need it. She talks about the effects on the psyche; there's an interesting passage about boat crew members that were so desperate they'd break open the compass to drink the alcohol!

Today I came across this passage "...everyone who went to Antarctica came back vowing that nothing in heaven or earth would tempt then to go near polar regions the end of six months they were on their knees in front of whomever might be able to get them there."

Not there yet but hopefully sooner than later.

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