A Contrast of Quotes and Color: Measuring Words Against Antarctica

The contrasts of Ross Island lend themselves well to black and white photography, and we have been meaning to post some black and white photos for a while now. Along with this, we each picked a quote about the Antarctic that we particularly cared for and described why we like it.


“The Antarctic has a way of making exclamation marks in a fellow’s life narrative.” – DeepFreeze! A Photographer’s Antarctic Odyssey in the Year 1959

Antarctica is a place that has quite a few boastings involving the suffix “-est”.  Coldest, highest, driest, windiest, harshest.  It’s these extremes that bring this quote home to me.  Where else can you start your day with a hike along a desolate ridge in -74F windchill, then warm up at a science lecture about using neutrinos to determine the age of the universe, and then play dodgeball with twenty men dressed in sequins?  This is the place where I set forth in an itchy yet regal gown called independence, where I challenged myself to become immersed in new friends like one hundred different colored scarves, and where I let myself don what is the most daring and yet the most comfortable outfit yet: love.  This place pushes the organisms which call it home to evolutionary extremes.  It has lured many doomed and several successful explorers.  And it called me, of all people, to test my limits.

Penguin tracks in the retreating sea ice.

A stroll with my mother in the cargo yard.

A low, creeping fog reveals two where I thought there was one.

The latticework of radio towers waits to be utilized.

Dazzling: the man and the landscape.


“When the Antarctic makes its astonishing impact on the senses, people try their damnedest to describe it. That’s why there has been so much good writing about it, over the single century of its human history. People have constantly measured up the powers of language against it. But being in Antarctica is also a constant reminder of language’s secondary status, of description’s belated appearance on any scene. Nowhere else on Earth is it so clear that a place has an integrity apart from what we might say about it. Nowhere are words so obviously ineffectual a response to what just, massively, exists, whole and complete and in no real need of translation. Words, Antarctica teaches us, are not what the world is made of.”

-Francis Spufford, The End of the Earth

I chose the above quote because it speaks not only of something I’ve struggled with while trying to write a blog about living here, but of the ability this place has to make everything else trivial in comparison.  The massive scale that is represented here shrinks the rest of the world, its trials and its triumphs, into the background. Like the feeling that one gets from contemplating the night sky, Antarctica overwhelms and inspires. It shows us a picture of Earth’s past, and gives an idea of what might be its future. It even gives us a glimpse into what the environment on other planets might be like. Sitting on the shores of a frozen ocean, staring off into the endless white, Antarctica has a way of creating a sense of solitude in one’s self that makes everything else simply dissolve. Alone with the vast nothingness, listening to the groans of the ice and the whispers of the Antarctic wind, I am enveloped by a feeling of peaceful insignificance.

A helo coming in from the Dry Valleys.

Ice crystals in a stream bed.

A freshly-waxed hallway in Crary Lab.

Fog rolling down the glacier off of the trail to Castle Rock.

Beautiful in black and white.

PS – It has been a dangerous year for the fishermen who choose to sail the McMurdo Sound. Several days ago the Jung Woo 2, a South Korean fishing vessel, caught fire in the waters north of station. 37 crew members were rescued, but three men lost their lives. Seven of the rescued were in serious condition, and had to be flown in by helicopter to McMurdo for immediate evacuation to Christchurch. Liz and I watched from our bedroom window as several of these poor guys were unloaded on stretchers from the helos and placed into ambulances. Our thoughts are with them and their families.


One thought on “A Contrast of Quotes and Color: Measuring Words Against Antarctica

  1. I LOVE the photo of Tent and Inaccessible Islands in which the fog makes it possible to distinguish the two! See you guys in less than a week! 🙂

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