Reaching the Pole

Reaching the Pole

June 9, 2013 Thought for the Day 3
English: Last expedition of Robert Falcon Scot...

English: Last expedition of Robert Falcon Scott. The image shows Oates, Scott and Wilson (standing); and Bowers and Evans (sitting)

So last week and this week I have been involved in a Research & Development project for a theatre company called Theatre Delicatessen.  I have worked with the company before many times, and on this project we are trying to research how to create a play about Scott of the Antarctic.  As a result I have not had much headspace for anything else, which is why I have decided to tell you a bit about it.

The fact is that the story of Robert Falcon Scott’s second Antarctic Mission is quite extraordinary.  It is also rather sprawling.  There will be some of you who have hear of the expedition – perhaps some of you will know some of the names of the men on his team – Dr Wilson, Bowers, Edgar Evans and probably the most famous man on the final polar push (save Scott himself) – Captain Oates.  OK, so you may not know his name, but you may still remember, faintly, the story of his death.  Having reached their destination (one month after the Norwegians successfully stuck a flag in the South Pole) the party were making the 800 mile journey back to their base on the coast of Antarctica.  According to diary extracts by all of the men on the mission, there were significant blizzards which prevented them from keeping up with the pace of their plans and reaching One-Ton depot (where they had laid supplies for the journey back).  Oates was sick, and barely able to walk due to frostbite and an old war injury.  Scott writes this:

He (Oates) has borne intense suffering for weeks without complaint…He did not – would not – give up hope till the very end.  He was a brave soul. This was the end. He slept through the night before last, hoping not to wake; but he woke in the morning – yesterday.  It was blowing a blizzard. He said, ‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’ He went outside into the blizzard and we have not seen him since.

I am sure that many of you will recognise the story – or perhaps just his last words, even if you’ve never known where they come from.

One of the big questions for me is why did these men do this?  Many of the men on the team (there were many more who risked their lives who were not on the final push to the pole) had been to the Antarctic previously.  Of course at this point in history the technology was very limited, and keeping warm was a significant challenge.  No one knew what to expect as no one had been to the South Pole before.  Walking across the frozen ice of the barrier or onto the actual landmass of Antarctica is incredibly dangerous – the ice is constantly shifting, leaving great crevasses in your path, and it is always difficult to see anything.  There are no defining features of the landscape and nothing lives there except penguins and seal – and they stick to the coastline.  The way these men chose to travel was by man-hauling, which means literally dragging your supplies on sledges behind you.  Frankly it is hard to explain the terrible nature of this expedition and how cold, how tiring, how dangerous it truly was.  Yet, Scott was inundated with applications to join his expedition when it was announced.  So, why?

This is one of the questions we’ve been thinking about, and we were lucky enough to be able to speak to Sara Wheeler, who is not only an expert on Apsley Cherry-Garrard (one of the men on the Terra Nova Expedition), but has also been to Antarctica.  So, why did she go?  In reality she was writing a book about Chile.  All the maps of Chile whilst she was there showed a segment of the Antarctic, so she decided to go and managed to get a place on an expedition.  But what was more interesting about talking to her was that she talked about the experience of being there.  She told us it is unlike anywhere else in the world.  Just surviving takes at least 1/2 the day.  One phrase she used that we all scribbled down was that travelling to the Antarctic is “an opportunity to step of the world.”  It is an ungoverned place – a place not bound by the societal structures by which we live.

It got me thinking about the challenges that life offers us all.  What is our response?  We cannot simply get off the world, so how do we manage them?  I make no claim whatsoever to have the definitive answer to that question, but as I am writing for the Chennai Challenge blog I think I will try to link it in to our work.  In order to cope with all of life’s challenges I think it is vital to be part of community.  Whilst Scott’s men were in Antarctica they lived in community. They supported one another, whether in a party of 5 or in the main group at their base on Cape Evans. Trying to do it on one’s own simply doesn’t work.  And that is why I think it is important to be active in your community – whatever that might mean.  Christianity teaches this as love your neighbour.  I think what Jesus meant was that we are all called, as human beings, to live in community with one another.  To support your neighbour when they need support and be supported when you need it.

Whatever your communities are I challenge you to think about how you can play an active role in supporting others.  If you’re in a church, then I suggest that this might be quite an easy challenge.  If not, perhaps you just need to really think about what communities you do belong to.  School, Work, Clubs, Neighbourhood, even virtual communities.

Both of our partners in Chennai (change of scenery!) work to enhance the opportunities for local communities to thrive.  Oasis particularly frame everything they do around the world in the context of building communities.  And I certainly think it is one of the things that has inspired us as a charity.

I didn’t really start this blog entry with a clear line of thought, and perhaps it opens more questions than it does answer them.  But I suppose that’s never a bad thing.  And it’s certainly not a bad thing to consider the importance of community and to challenge ourselves on how we might contribute to our own.


3 Responses

  1. Pilla Jones says:

    As you say, Isaac, it asks more questions than it answers. Well done for stirring. Keep up the good work – can’t wait to see the play too. x

  2. Jackie Inskip says:

    Thought provoking stuff, Isaac …….

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