I will never forget my first visit to Petermann Island in Antarctica. The sky was overcast. The Antarctic summer was winding down. The snow bloomed red and the Adelie Penguins were moulting. I did not see the travel-brochure Antarctica that day. I saw Eden.
Feeling puny in the grand scheme, I pondered my relationship with the natural world. I reflected on the Bible’s call to stewardship.
Genesis 1:26. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
Blasphemy it may be, but that verse set us on the wrong path. Because humankind interpreted it to mean we were superior and had the right to interfere with the natural order. We forgot that humility is essential when given the responsibility to care for anything.
So when I read an article this morning about tourists in Antarctica attempting to sow seeds, inspired by a Bible verse, I was outraged. Outraged at the Tour Operator who failed to educate its travelers before they landed ashore. Outraged at the so-called Christians who failed to recognize Eden. Ignorance boards every tourist vessel, and the consequences of ignorance put Antarctica at risk.
Ezekiel 34:17-18. As for you, my flock… Is it not enough for you to feed on good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?
Image via Wikipedia
Robert Falcon Scott and four companions reached the South Pole 100 years ago today. The goal of that British expedition team was to be the first in history to reach the bottom of the world. They failed by five weeks.
The team rested. Scott wrote of his disappointment in his journal. Then they began what became a death march. A month later the team was one man down. Two months later all lives were lost.
The five died for the glory of King, Country and Science…and in the manner of Greek Tragedy – for personal loyalty. Not quite a band of brothers – Scott was a stickler when it came to rank and class – they shared a common purpose.
Scott became a national hero, lionized in press and film. His companions became mythic heroes, whose names were conjured when examples of selflessness were required during dark and difficult times.
In a twist that has fascinated me for a lifetime, the man who became the first to reach the South Pole, became a footnote in British history books, overshadowed by Scott in the English-speaking world.
Captain Scott’s accrued accomplishments should outweigh his one, dramatic, tragic and complete failure. They should, but that has never been the case. His expeditions to the south polar region contributed greatly to science, art and photography. Let’s spend the next 100 years celebrating that, not his deadly hubris.
Petty Officer Edgar Evans, RN
Welshman, Edgar Evans, joined the Royal Navy at 15. Eight years later he met Robert Falcon Scott aboard HMS Majestic. Although Scott was his superior officer, the pair developed a bond that saw Evans join Scott’s first expedition to Antarctica, and his final, fatal journey to the South Pole.
Edgar was one of the four men, Scott chose to accompany him on the last leg to the South Pole. Edgar injured his hand just prior to reaching the Pole, an injury that failed to heal, contributing to Edgar’s physical and mental decline.
His condition was exacerbated by a concussion received when he fell into a crevasse, as the party negotiated the Beardmore glacier on the return journey from the Pole. Too ill to continue, his four companions left him behind in an attempt to reach a supply depot as quickly as possible. Once their goal was reached, they returned for Edgar, emptying a sledge for the rescue. He died at the supply depot on the night of February 17, 1912. The first of the Scott’s five-man team to perish.
For all my dislike of the mythical hero that is Scott of the Antarctic, I cannot deny that Robert Falcon Scott was capable of engendering great loyalty in the men with whom he served. My opinion of the man is tempered by the respect in which he was held by those who knew him best.
May Wilson, Oates, Evans, Bowers and Scott forever rest in peace, on that harsh, unforgiving continent at the bottom of the world.
Captain Lawrence Oates, known as Titus, will always be known for his final words, spoken as he left the tent in which his South Pole companions hunkered, “I am just going outside and may be some time.” He stepped out into a -40 blizzard, bootless, without hope of survival.
He chose certain death, it is believed, because he had become a burden through ill-health to his three companions. The trio would have a greater chance of survival without him, so he thought. Unfortunately, his sacrifice was for naught. The entire party died, never reaching safety.
Exploration was the family business. His uncle, Frank Oates, was an African explorer. Captain Oates, an experienced soldier, bought his membership in Scott’s expedition, donating £1,000, which, at that time, was a small fortune. His skill with horses clinched the deal.
Captain Lawrence Oates was last seen March 16, 1912. Scott wrote in his journal: “We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman”
Image via Wikipedia
One week today, the polar world will mark a centenary that, in my opinion, is controversial. On January 17, 1911, Captain Scott and 4 companions ( Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates and Edgar Evans) reached the South Pole. Those British polar explorers were the second group to reach the bottom of the world, pipped at the post by Roald Amundsen five weeks before.
Scott of the Antarctic, as he became known, is revered in his homeland, and by many in the community of people passionate about polar history and exploration. I am not one who hero worships Captain Scott. That said, I will not deny that Scott and the members of his expeditions advanced science and our understanding of the geography and geology of the region. He does deserve his place in history.
By all accounts, Scott was a leader who would not listen, when his subordinates – many of whom were experts in their fields – gave him advice; advice that could have saved his life and those of his companions. If you are unfamiliar with Robert Falcon Scott’s exploits, he and his companions died on the return journey.
To mark the centenary, I will introduce you to the men who accompanied Scott. Tomorrow, you will meet Dr. Edward Wilson, Scott’s boon companion.