Tuesday, February 2, 2010

2nd February, 1911

Am writing this in the tent waiting for night to fall. Of course, this being Antarctic summer, it doesn't get dark. What we're waiting for is for the temperatures to drop -- minus six, last night -- so we can begin marching the ponies then instead of the daytime when it is too warm for them. Better they rest during the warmth of the sun than build up a froth of heat.

The trouble for us chaps though is that it is almost impossible to sleep until we get used to the switch.

Left Atkinson behind with Crean. I feel sorry for them both, but Crean most of all. Atkinson is a damn fool for not having told us about the state of his foot sooner. Crean, meanwhile, has the ignomy of looking after him and fetching fodder instead of making this historic march. Meanwhile, I am handling Atkinson's pony.

I inquired after out one set of snow-shoes only to find they had been left behind. And after they had proved so useful! It does make me wonder if someone's not trying to sabotage our efforts. Gran volunteered to ski back to fetch them, which was very good of him. Oates will not use two poles when he skis, insisting on using only one, like some glaciated gondolier.

I thought I might as well do something useful while I'm lying here so wrote this:

The seductive folds of the sleeping-bag.

The hiss of the primus and the fragrant steam of the cooker issuing from the tent ventilator.

The small green tent and the great white road.

The whine of a dog and the neigh of our steeds.

The driving cloud of powdered snow.

The crunch of footsteps which break the surface crust.

The wind blown furrows.

The blue arch beneath the smoky cloud.

The crisp ring of the ponies’ hoofs and the swish of the following sledge.

The droning conversation of the march as driver encourages or chides his horse.

The patter of dog pads.

The gentle flutter of our canvas shelter.

Its deep booming sound under the full force of a blizzard.

The drift snow like finest flour penetrating every hole and corner – flickering up beneath one’s head covering, pricking sharply as a sand blast.

The sun with blurred image peeping shyly through the wreathing drift giving pale shadowless light.

The eternal silence of the great white desert. Cloudy columns of snow drift advancing from the south, pale yellow wraiths, heralding the coming storm, blotting out one by one the sharp-cut lines of the land.

The blizzard, Nature’s protest – the crevasse, Nature’s pitfall – that grim trap for the unwary – no hunter could conceal his snare so perfectly – the light rippled snow bridge gives no hint or sign of the hidden danger, its position unguessable till man or beast is floundering, clawing and struggling for foothold on the brink.

The vast silence broken only by the mellow sounds of the marching column.

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