Depth in the Shallows

Month: January, 2018

The Best Place On Earth

In Silent Simplicity

The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard 

Apsley Cherry-Garrard (1886-1959) was a member of Robert F. Scott’s ill fated Terra Nova Expedition (1910-1913), the polar explorer’s second expedition to Antarctica. Cherry-Garrard was the youngest member of the group and had no specific scientific training. He was eventually brought on by a grateful Scott after making a sizable donation to the effort. In addition to helping lay supplies along Scott’s route to the Pole, Cherry-Garrard served as an assistant zoologist. It is in this role that Cherry-Garrard made the worst journey in the world.

In July 1911, Cherry-Garrard, Bill Wilson, and Birdie Bowers walked sixty miles from Cape Evans to Cape Crozier in temperatures ranging from -40 to -77 degrees Fahrenheit and almost complete darkness. The only thing to keep them from freezing to death was the hauling of two sleds of supplies. The point of it all? To obtain the unhatched eggs of the famed Emperor penguin. Having gained Cape Crozier, the trio was caught in a terrible blizzard and, at one point, lost their tent. With only sleeping bags and snow drifts to protect them, the men sang in the windy dark to stave off Death. Cherry-Garrard and his companions made it back to Cape Evans a month or so later. Wilson and Bowers eventually joined Scott on his journey to the Pole. None survived.

Cherry-Garrard’s experience, though traumatic and painful, also yielded insights. The quote below helps us see what can come of desperation and privation; it is the joy of stripping life down to its essentials. When we are mindful of death, we consider how best to live. When we suffer cold, hunger, exhaustion, or any other test of will, we recognize what truly matters and are thankful for it.

“Those Hut Point days, would prove some of the happiest of my life. Just enough to eat and keep warm, no more – no frills or trimmings: there is many a worse and more elaborate life…the luxuries of civilisation satisfy only those wants which they themselves create.”





The Universal Particular

A Unique Commonality

The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett

Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909) is mostly remembered for her short stories. This novella is a series of connected tales along the lines of Sherwood Anderson’s later Winesburg, Ohio. In it, Jewett recounts the people and places of Maine’s coast. Considered a writer of literary regionalism, Jewett transcends any geographic categorizations with her subtle depictions of humanity in a beautiful and at times forbidding place. She featured stories of women but the universal appeal of her work is not limited by gender just as it is not limited by geography. Jewett, in the nineteenth-century tradition of Hawthorne, gives us a wider view of humanity precisely because it is deeper.

“In the life of each of us, I said to myself, there is a place remote and islanded, and given to endless regret or secret happiness; we are each the uncompanioned hermit and recluse of an hour or a day; we understand our fellows of the cell to whatever age of history they may belong.”

The Duke Of Windsor

Great Scot, Royal Canadian

The Stories of Alistair MacLeod 

Alistair MacLeod (1936-2014) was a Canadian writer and professor of Scottish ancestry. Born in Saskatchewan, he returned to Nova Scotia as a child. He taught for many years and eventually retired from the University of Windsor. He was a painstakingly slow writer. One obituary referred to him a “novelist in no hurry.” And if you are looking for a thrilling, gripping “read,” this is not your man. If you are looking to experience a writer lulling you into a world that is both foreign and familiar, grabbing hold of your emotions, memories, and sense of place, MacLeod is a master. Once hold of you, he never lets go. He wrote one novel, No Greater Mischief, and a collection of short stories. Largely set in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, MacLeod’s stories follow the fortunes and failures of the friends and families that populate that piece of the Old World in the New. All of life is here, in this little place.

This quote, taken from an interview with MacLeod, demonstrates the hard realities of life as he wrote about them, but also the gift of life that the certainty of death bestows.

“When you grow up in a rural area, especially on a farm, which I did for a while, you become very accepting of death as just another part of the cycle, especially regarding the animals. You breed them, you often see them born, you care for them, and then you kill them and eat them. So you grow up, as some people say, very close to your food chain, and some of the animals in that food chain have almost become friends for a while, so I think that farming people have a rather non-sentimental view of death. I also believe that if you work with your body—like a farmer, a miner, a fisherman, or a logger—you’re always putting yourself at risk. Such people are always in danger of losing fingers or hands or breaking their legs or being killed. So growing up in such an environment, you could never be surprised by death, and it certainly wasn’t something that could be avoided.”

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