Life at the Bottom: The People of Antarctica

Life at the Bottom: The People of Antarctica

Life at the Bottom: The People of Antarctica

Life at the Bottom: The People of Antarctica

Excerpt

I have an old globe at home on my study desk, and it is perched on a brass rod fixed to a three-legged stand like a ball twirled on a juggler's finger. The rod is about a half-inch in diameter, and it is set directly into the South Pole, covering it as though the mapmaker couldn't have cared less about the spot's significance or, what is more likely, given the age of the sphere, didn't know all that much about the place he must have seen as godforsaken. Everything else on the globe, even the area around the North Pole, is marked clearly and neatly with black type, and in various colors. Antarctica is but a hazy outline, all white, with this brass screw piercing it. No place names, no topographic features, though it is the size of the United States and Mexico combined, with mountains, valleys, plateaus, and lakes, 5% million square miles in all, just lines of longitude converging under a screw.

When I was selected to go there, my knowledge of Antarctica was as sketchy as that of most Americans. Robert Falcon Scott's ill-fated race against Roald Amundsen to be the first at the South Pole was a long time ago, 1912, and they belonged to British and Norwegian schoolboys anyway. Richard Evelyn Byrd's Antarctic public relations machine ground to a halt with the outbreak of World War II, and those of us who were teenagers during those years, cut off from the admiral's explorations, had to turn to the more violent idols thrust upon us by the Office of War Information.

I had never burned from adolescence to visit Antarctica. It . . .

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