What is it about Antarctica?
You know one of the things I have always avoided in my 30-year love affair with the place? The “I always wanted to go there” story. This story, which has a sub-genre big in the UK that begins, “Since I was a young boy…” and then proceeds to the end where the speaker/writer winds up dead of cold and hunger on The Ice (the poles are littered with the bodies of British naval officers who failed to learn from Inuit wisdom about staying alive in extreme cold), is woven into most of the Boy Books about Antarctica. And if you do research around the Heroic Age of Exploration — yes, some English Boys made that moniker, too — as I do, you are reading Boys’ Life accounts, from letters to diaries, etc. And they all weigh in on this idea that when they were five, they got it into their heads that they wanted to go to Antarctica.
This is weird. You know why this is weird? No? Then I shall tell you: When these chappies were five, no one had ever been to Antarctica. It was more mythos than “place” to “go.” So it would be like your five-year-old son saying, hey, I want to go to this Exoplanet that NASA is writing about on the JPL blog. Maybe we will go there one day, but no one has been there yet so why would someone who is five dream of it? Were these English households so packed with conversation about terrestrial exploration, of the unknown, of the last great continent to be colonized. Maybe. But maybe not.
Why do I muse about this? Because I am writing my next Antarctic book and I am rolling over in my mind what we say when we talk about The Ice — both now and then. It has changed in very few ways, the whole gallantry and hero vibe. I wonder what that means for us as it continues to melt and break up? There are 26-million gigatons of ice in Antarctica, give or take a few.
File this under late-night pensees, in re new book, Antarctica Poetica.