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A friend of mine was recently interviewed by a major UK paper. She posted a link to the article with an unnecessary apology for the inaccurate headline that used the terms North Pole and South Pole as synonyms for the Arctic and Antarctica. As an interview subject, Sue Flood has no control over a headline.
To those involved in the business of polar travel that headline reflects one of the marketing challenges faced in a world of Search Engine Optimization and keyword content. Polar professionals use the terms North Pole and South Pole to refer only to invisible points on the planet at 90N or 90S. To use the terms as synonyms for the generic but accurate Arctic and Antarctica is tantamount to a sin. Using the terms inaccurately is the sign of an outsider, an amateur, a dilettante. No one mistakes Sue Flood for an amateur. She has the ice creds to call herself a polar professional.
Yet…the amateur is the person marketers of polar product want to capture. If amateurs refer to the polar regions by inaccurate terms, then the online content must include the terms with which people search for polar travel information. I came to terms with that conundrum by writing an article about inaccurate terms used by people when referring to the Polar Regions. I thought of it as an educational piece for seekers of information, and a clever way to ensure my former employer’s polar professionalism was not eroded.
When we insert keywords into a search field, for the most part, we do not worry about syntax or spelling. We insert keywords or phrases in a kind of stream of consciousness. Just use Google Insight for Search and take a look at how people search for your favourite subject. For example – more people search for Antarctica using the adjective Antarctic than the noun. The latter is part of the former, so the problem may be minor, but the point is the same: Writing for keyword content if you use search data undermines the English language and that irks me.
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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.
Tragedy has been the theme this week. An inevitability when writing about Robert Falcon Scott‘s expedition to the South Pole, the centenary of which we will mark on January 17, 2012. I had planned to write something lighter today as much for my mental health as anything else. But I awoke to read that a cruise ship ran aground in Italy, with a loss of eight lives. Tragedy continues to be the theme this week.
Travel is not without risk. Travel has never been risk free. The consequences of risk, however, happen to someone else. If we didn’t believe that we would not travel, and there would be no travel industry.
In my circle of acquaintances there are many for whom travel must include risk. They choose the risky route, the dodgy destination, the adrenaline inducing activity. Most travelers choose the option with the least risk – the perception of smallest risk. May they continue to be deluded.
When I am faced with the uncomfortable, I turn to poetry. Today was no exception. Walt Whitman comforted me, as I mourned the loss of lives in Italy. He comforted and surprised me. As I thumbed through Leaves of Grass, I came across a poem he wrote about a Greely expedition: Of That Blithe Throat of Thine.
Whitman wrote of his inspiration: “(More than eighty-three degrees north – about a good day’s steaming distance to the Pole by one of our fast oceaners in clear water-Greely the explorer heard the song of a single snow-bird merrily sounding over the desolation.)”
I am familiar with polar prose. Polar poetry is a new concept. One I will pursue for the next three days: My tribute to those who risked all and lost.
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”
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Birdie Bowers (1883-1912) first trip to Antarctica was his last. Scott invited him to join the expedition to the South Pole based on a personal recommendation from Sir Clements Markham. Bowers failed to make as strong first impression on Scott who wrote, “We are landed with him now, and must make the best of it.”
Bowers handled logistics – well, really well. Every expedition needs someone who can make supplies appear as if by magic and last longer than intended. That was Birdie Bowers skill.
Bowers was a Navy man, having sailed around the world five times, before he joined Scott’s expedition. Scott had not intended to include Bowers on the last push to the Pole. When the final escort sledge turned back to base camp, it was minus one member, Bowers.
Bowers died with Scott in a lonely tent just a few miles from the supply depot that held the food that could have saved the lives of the three starving men, who had reached the South Pole only to discover that Amundsen had got there first.