Weekend Reading: Beyond the Ice

In this weekly roundup, we scour the Web for our favorite long-form articles, collecting them here and on Longreads and Twitter. This installment focuses on icy adventures, mixed martial arts, and pee-wee football.

Kurt Russell enjoys some Antarctic vacation time in The Thing.     Photo: Courtesy of Universal City Studios

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.

“The food was almost gone, and his own physical state was deplorable, with open sores on his nose, lips, and scrotum; his hair coming out in clumps; and skin peeling off his legs. And he still had a hundred miles to go. ‘I am afraid it has cooked my chances altogether,’ Mawson wrote in his diary. But he added, ‘I shall do my utmost to the last.’ Using only the serrated blade of his knife, he cut the sledge in half. Then he fashioned a makeshift sail by sewing Mertz’s jacket to a cloth bag. Three days after Mertz’s death, Mawson discovered to his horror that the soles of his feet had completely detached from the skin beneath them, which spurted pus and blood. He taped the dead soles to his feet, and put on six pairs of wool socks. Every step thereafter was an agony.” 

Allen, Texas, is a town where football is Lord and the children learn to tackle before they learn to walk. But the foundation of their existence may be threatened by the encroachment of reality. Bryan Curtis, Texas Monthly.

“Allen, like much of the country, decided that it was going to try to save football from modernity. It was going to see if what was primal and brutal about the game could exist in an era of science and safety and lawsuits and attachment parenting. I wanted to see this struggle. I wanted to go to a city where kids practiced football three times a week and played once a week while Mom watched from a lawn chair; a place where they had the best protective gear and the best doctors; where the game was coached the right way and played exquisitely well—even by kids. I wanted to see the sport trying to survive in our new, wised-up universe.”

Reashat Mati has been punching since he was born. Now 13, he holds titles in every form of unarmed combat. Charles P. Pierce, Grantland.

"In the ever-expanding world of mixed martial arts, Reshat Mati, now 13 years old and many times a champion in several different disciplines, all of them involving punching something (or someone) more substantial than the air, is Bryce Harper. He's RG3. He's Jabari Parker. Lean and quick-handed, and quick-footed, for all that, with a taste for mixing it up, Reshat is a genuine phenom in a phenom of a sport. Yet, in many ways, his is the oldest immigrant story of them all. It is the story lived by thousands of Hispanic immigrants and, before them, by the Irish and Germans and Jewish immigrants who poured into the tenement ghettos of the big cities and, at almost the same time, by the African Americans who came north from tenant farming and sharecropping, immigrants from one part of their own country to another. Sooner or later, you find a way to punch your way out of these circumstances."

Every basketball player dreams of the 100-point game, but those who’ve achieved the dream have found themselves strangely cursed. Justin Heckert, Sports Illustrated.

"Jack became an immediate curiosity. After the game he answered questions in more than a dozen interviews, surrounded by people from the sports information office at Grinnell. Anyone who called the office that night got a little piece of him, a small taste of what he was feeling; he barely had time to talk to his parents, who waited for him to take a break. He did interviews the next morning and interviews that afternoon. He talked to Jimmy Kimmel and Good Morning America and gave his game socks to The Dan Patrick Show. He did interviews after the Pioneers' next game, against William Penn on Nov. 25, when all he could offer everyone watching was 21 points. He got autograph requests and asked his coach what XOXO meant, and his coach told him, hugs and kisses. His parents began to fear that the media storm would consume him, change him; so they asked his coaches to make sure he was eating and sleeping and still going to class."

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