A DEATH IN THE AMAZON
Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees. -- Revelation A Culture is no better than its woods. -- W. H. Auden, "Bucolics"
A very long time ago, a mountainous archipelago and a continental shield were joined at the hip by nature, then bonded by an ice cap thousands of feet thick to form Antarctica, Earth's fifth-largest continent and its highest. The steeply sloping ice is forever fracturing and breaking away at the seaward margins, floating off like miniature mountains and leaving behind towering blue-and-white cliffs hundreds of feet high. During winter, as sea ice forms at its periphery, the continent doubles in size, sprouting enormous frozen tongues that project into the stormiest waters on the globe. Locked within its vast reaches is 70 percent of the world's freshwater, the purest anywhere in nature, yet the continent is so dry that geologists classify the 5 percent of its surface free of ice as desert.
It is a continent with no native human population, nor any large land animals, a place whose interior is the coldest on Earth. On August 24, 1960, at the Soviet Union's Vostok Station, the temperature dropped to -- 126.9°F (-88.3°C), the lowest ever recorded -- anywhere. Added to this are fierce interior winds that race along the ice-drowned mountains at speeds as great as 200 miles per hour, creating windchill conditions for which no realistic human scale exists.