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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Ice Master

A short while ago I read a book that I bought through Amazon, called "A Furnace Afloat,"  by Joe Jackson.   It told of how, in 1866, crewmen on an American clipper ship accidentally set fire to their beautiful vessel, and it burned to the water, setting them and the rest of the ship's company cast away in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for over two months, in the pre-radio age.

I seem to be in a period when I'm interested in true stories about survival while one is exposed to the elements and stripped down to the barest essentials of food, water, and a place to sleep.

Now I'm reading another book bought through Amazon, "The Ice Master," by Jennifer Niven, and it's in something of the same vein.   It's about an Arctic expedition launched in 1913 by a Norwegian named Stefansson on a ship called the Karluk.   In the first years of the 20th century,  right before World War I, the urge to "discover" things that were already there was still something of the craze that C. Columbus had started long before, and "crazed" is the right word to use in general for the people in this book.    I am about a quarter of the way through, and already the question that keeps running through my head is,  "What were they thinking?"

Stefansson, who raised all the money for this expedition and was supposed to be leading it, had in mind finding a lost continent that he was absolutely certain lay under the Arctic Ocean.

Today we would find that notion ludicrous.   What would they have done with such a thing even if it had existed?   What's the point of finding a continent if you can't march up on its sands, plant the flag of your country or whatever country financed this scam, proclaim yourselves to be the new owners, shoot dead all the present residents that come out to welcome you,  hunt down and try to kill or enslave all the rest, steal all their gold, food, dwellings and any other property you can find and declare to be your own,  cut down all the trees, kill all the fish and the other wild animals, cover the land with concrete and with sports stadiums filled with screaming drunks, and with skyscrapers and other mountains of garbage, slice off the tops of geology's mountains, fill the valleys and caves with radioactive waste, load the air with toxic compounds, and in general make a big mess of things.

This plot had just recently been neatly foiled by Antarctica and its only humanoid inhabitants, the penguins, and it's hard to see how even a little of that "progress" could've been thought achievable under the waters of the Arctic Ocean at and around the North Pole.  But Stef thought he'd give it a shot anyway.

Stefansson's people did make a start.   His noble scientists, standing safely aboard the Karluk and after professing to be thrilled by the sight of them, shot the first polar bears that they saw, and today we all know what is happening with those remarkable animals and their fast disappearing ice shelves.

Talk about gunning down the albatross before the trip even got started good!

I've gotten to where the Karluk becomes stuck fast in ice 40 feet thick, as they all knew it would, with winter just beginning, and Stefansson jumps ship on the sly, under the guise of heading a small hunting party, and he leaves the people on the ship to their certain disastrous fate.   That included not only their seamstress, a woman, for a change in these stories, but also her two little girls, one of them cutely called "Mugpi."  There were Inuit, formerly called "Eskimos."   You would think that they at least would've made it out of all that ice, but I don't think they did.

I know I'm reading this story in exactly the wrong season, and believe me it's having an effect that is not comfortable.  This is strictly a July story -- but not August!   No, never August, because apparently, till recently that was when the Arctic started icing up.  So why did they wait till just two months before, in June, to set out on this trip? 

There's a suggestion that if nothing else -- and there was surely nothing else -- if the Karluk became crushed in the ice, along with the loss of all or most of its occupants, that would merely add the story of Stefansson's expedition indelibly to the annals of polar exploration, as long as he himself got away clean.   And he did, and it did.



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