Areas of Unrest
5 January 2000 - Penguin Eggs
QOTD: "If you kill someone, you dramatically change their behavior." - Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski
Reading: Dolores Johnson, Wash, Fold, and Die
Listening to: Pachora, Unn
I finally finished reading Cherry-Garrard's The Worst Journey in the World and I wish I could persuade Robert to read it because it really sums up so much of what I think is fascinating about exploration. Cherry was the youngest member of Scott's last expedition and, along with Wilson and Bowers (both of whom died with Scott on the return from the South Pole), went on a winter expedition to Cape Crozier to bring back the eggs of the emperor penguin. Imagine hauling hundreds of pounds of gear in -70 degree temperatures over rough terrain in complete darkness. The book is, to say the least, aptly titled.
I should note that they took five eggs, but two were broken on the journey back. The remaining three were donated to the Museum of Natural History in London.
Cherry goes on to write about the polar journey and, later, about the search for the bodies of the polar party. And he writes so straightforwardly. His journal from 12 November 1912 at midday starts, "We have found them - to say it has been a ghastly day cannot express it - it is too bad for words." He goes on to repeat the familiar story. I cry every time I read about Oates leaving the tent, saying "I am just going out and may be some time" and walking out to his death in the blizzard. And, again, Scott's last journal entry ("For God's sake, look after our people.") always has me blubbering.
I can't imagine the horrors of those journeys - the winter journey, the polar journey and the search for the bodies. And Cherry was only 24 when he joined the expedition. He never recovered completely from the exhaustion and stress and guilt over surviving. He writes often about how one must be prepared to commit suicide to save his companions and how he contemplated that during the winter journey. But at the end he can still write:
And I tell you, if you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore. If you are a brave man you will do nothing; if you are fearful you may do much, for none but cowards have need to prove their bravery. Some will tell you that you are mad, and nearly all will say, "What is the use?" For we are a nation of shopkeepers, and no shopkeeper will look at research which does not promise him a financial return within a year. And so you will sledge nearly alone, but those with whom you sledge will not be shopkeers; that is worth a good deal. If you march your Winter Journeys you will have your reward, so long as all you want is a penguin's egg.
And that's it about exploration - and scientific research in general. You have to be satisfied with it being done for its own sake, not for fame and fortune. Knowing what you're capable of accomplishing is the real achievement.
Goose eggs may be nothing but penguin eggs are everything.
Copyright 2000 Miriam H. Nadel
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