“The Ross Sea”
Readers of my blog know that I have been reading Ernest Shackleton’s memoir South during my Antarctic trip. Had his ship Endurance been freed of the ice in 1914, Shackleton planned on crossing Antarctica and arriving here in the Ross Sea region. Instead, his ship was crushed by sea ice and his transcontinental expedition turned into a rescue operation. His second crew aboard the Aurora arrived in the Ross Sea region to lay depots of food and fuel that would have been necessary to complete the second half of Shackleton’s crossing. While the Endurance’s crew on the other side survived the destruction of their ship, several men on this side of the expedition died while laying the supplies for the team that would never arrive.
Last night’s reading brought me to the chapter entitled, “The Ross Sea.” Like the rest of his memoir, Shackleton easily mixes practical accounts of direction, weather, and logistics with reports of their physical and emotional suffering. Unlike the Romantic writers of the 19th century that dwell upon every emotion that presents itself, Shackleton’s austere approach to reporting frostbite, amputations, hunger, and despair merely places these sufferings within the larger context of the journey. They are simply another fact to report. I now understand why he writes this way. There is not enough time or energy for any one of us to dwell upon the discomforts of the ice. We follow our training, but we don’t get lost in self-pity and complaining. That would only add to the already daunting challenges of living and working here.
All that being said, maybe it isn’t such a good idea to read about men freezing to death in this place while I’m here. I should have brought a different book.