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Posts Tagged ‘Roald Amundsen’

Above the Ice

October 23, 2014 | by

Grief and adventure on the path to the North Pole.


François-Auguste Biard, Magdalenefjorden, 1840.

For two weeks in the summer of 2013, I traveled around the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard as part of the Arctic Circle Residency, proceeding up the west coast of the main island, Spitsbergen, and making landfall at tiny settlements and untrammeled beaches at the edge of the known world. At one point, our course took us into a small fjord where we sailed past an abandoned mining town called Blomstrandhalvoya; a research station, Ny-Ålesund, on the opposite shore; and, farther in, two massive glaciers, Kongsvegend and Kronebreen, twin ice masses sliding slowly into the fjord.

The glaciers hug a promontory butte that stands in defiance to these ice sheets, though they are both slowly wearing it away. In a struggle imperceptible to human eyes, the glaciers grind relentlessly against the rock face, carving their inexorable history into its striated face. They could win against this rock, wearing it down over eons into a plain or even a valley, but instead they’re ceding the battle, retreating backward. At some point in the future the promontory will be an island, as the glaciers recede and allow water to spill in behind them.

The sound you hear when you put ice cubes into warm (but not hot) water—that subtle but quick crackling—is the sound all around you in the summer fjords near glaciers. There is ice everywhere in the water, the size of your fist and the size of small islands, and because the water is only a few degrees above freezing, the ice cracks slowly, abundantly. It takes a moment to understand what you’re hearing, because it’s so constant and so low in the air—this soft crackle, like static over a radio.

Next to the noise, there is the wind. Strong, persistent, a wall of bitter blue. Constant: no slack, no gusts, as if from an electric fan. It is utterly cold and utterly fierce. You gaze into the white at the edge of the glacier that gives way slowly to its interior blues, blues of a depth for which there is no word, buffeted by the wind, which streams steadily and directly into you. Read More »


On the Occasion of the Removal of My Girlfriend’s Dog’s Balls

April 1, 2013 | by

81_VARIO_4_RED__38078.1351624165.1280.1280Nine weeks ago, a frigid, low-pressure system deposited some six inches of snow on central Belgium. On a Tuesday evening my girlfriend returned from work to her parents’ house outside Brussels and attempted the construction of a snowman in the garden. The process was unsuccessful; it was very cold and the snow was dry powder, with none of the cohesive properties required for the manufacture of what the Flemish call a sneeuwman. Abandoning the original project, my girlfriend sat down on the submerged lawn. As her body reached this thrillingly accessible position her dog attempted to mount her, over and over again. He would not desist. Exasperated, my girlfriend made a decision she had long toyed with. She condemned his balls. Read More »


Scott and Longfellow: Partners in the Long, Mild Twilight

December 19, 2012 | by

A hundred years ago, one of the great dramas in the history of exploration was taking place at the very bottom of the earth, a place so shrouded in mystery that it had not yet been mapped. After simmering for a long time, the “Heroic Age” of polar exploration had reached its apotheosis in the form of a mad dash undertaken by rivals to be the first to claim the planet’s last great prize: the South Pole.

The exploits of Scott and Amundsen have since become a metaphor for the essential yin and yang of human exploits. Their race brings all the opposites together: success and failure; life and death; good planning and bad planning. The great irony of the outcome is that the winner of the battle, Amundsen, ended up losing the war; public opinion preferred to laud the martyred hero left frozen in the ice as “Scott of the Antarctic.”

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