Many great stories take place on the frozen wastes, where the howling winds and stinging ice strip human relationships to their bare bones.
Hey everyone! Welcome to the first Weekend Reading of 2013! Grab some hot cocoa, your favorite blanket, and settle in for our weekly selection of only the finest stories. This week, I’ll be reading to you in my best James Earl Jones voice.
Being 26 years of age and lacking an understanding of advanced mathematics, astrophysics, alien physiology, and the like, my odds of one day going into outer space are dropping precipitously every passing moment. If I had to pick a second dream destination, it would be the Antarctic. Its featureless vistas, punctuated by the occasional bizarre ice formation, truly look like they belong on another planet.
Many great stories take place on the frozen wastes, where the howling winds and stinging ice strip human relationships to their bare bones. In John Carpenter’s The Thing a group of Antarctic researchers are infiltrated by a shape-shifting alien that slowly whittles their ranks, as well as their trust in one another. Another favorite of mine is in the latter half of Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. At one point, the two protagonists must journey for 70 days across a barren and treacherous ice sheet on the Winter planet Gethen. Though their journey is miserable, the isolation fosters a bond between them like neither has ever experienced.
I was moved in a similar way by David Roberts’ account, published in National Geographic, of the Australian Douglas Mawson’s ill-fated 1912 Antarctic expedition. Mawson set out with two other individuals, one of whom was lost down a hidden crevice. The other traveled with him until he succumbed to frostbite and malnourishment. Though it was obvious that his companion was doomed, Mawson would not abandon him. He wrote in his journal: “If he cannot go on 8 or 10 m[iles] a day, in a day or two we are doomed. I could pull through myself with the provisions at hand but I cannot leave him.” There’s a lot of gruesome stuff in the account, but that was the moment that moved me most.
I’m sure you’re all anxious to read more, so without further delay, I present your Weekend Reading!
Visiting the Antarctic might not even be an option in 20 years. Sam Moulton tags along with environmental photographer James Balog as he attempts to convince the world that things are changing, and not necessarily for the better. Outside.
“Like the dust cameras, the tree and beetle cams are part of Balog’s larger mission to document what he calls ‘the Anthropocene in action.’ Anthropocene means 'new man,' and the term was first used in a geological context in 2000, when Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize–winning atmospheric chemist from Holland, coined it at a scientific conference. The idea is that the Holocene epoch of geologic time, which began around 12,000 years ago, has ended. Sometime in the past few hundred years, it was supplanted by a new time frame called the Anthropocene. This concept is being looked at seriously by geologists; for it to fully take hold, experts will have to conclude that human activities—like population growth and the burning of fossil fuels—will be clearly discernible in the rock record of the future. “
It’s been over 100 years since Douglas Mawson traversed the Antarctic, but his story remains one of the most horrifying survival tales ever told. David Roberts, National Geographic.