Saturday, November 22, 2008

The South Pole

Day two of a migraine. 
I think the problem is that I've spent the last couple of days freezing my extremities.  Down under, way down under.  In Antarctica, actually.  And all without leaving my living room.  Magic, huh?

See, I was at the library the other day, and on a shelf right in front of my eyes was this book--a book I've actually read before.  A book that led me to read everything I could about Antarctica.  The Worst Place on Earth, about the race to the South Pole by Roald Armundsen, a Norwegian, and the Brit, Robert Falcon Scott.  These two men each mounted expeditions in 1910-12 to be the first person to find the Pole.  And I'm telling you the story is gripping.  On one hand, there stood this tall Norwegian who left nothing to chance, studied, researched, plotted and planned, and by the time his team was ready to ski south from the Bay of Whales, where they'd wintered on the iceshelf, the plan was set in place, with every continguency thought of.  They skiied, drove dogs, and were laconic about the cold and other dangers (crevasses, especially).  "Great day of skiing!" was a typical journal entry.  Traveling 1500 kilometers from their winter hut, they reached the South Pole in just over 2 months, on December 19.  Thirty five days ahead of Scott's team!

Robert Falcon Scott was a British navel officer, who 'ruled' his men with intimidation and ill humor.  He did almost no research, believed that simply being British meant his team would succeed, know how to do things they'd never been taught (like driving dogs, taking compass readings, etc). He rejected the idea of dog driving, for the most part because on an earlier trip, he'd had no success with them.  Instead,The man sent to Siberia to buy just three dozen dogs (he was hedging his bets) before the trip, was cabled by Scott to buy white ponies as well--but only white ones, because on a previous trip (by Shackleton), the black ponies had died first.  So obviously white ponies were stronger.  Brilliant deduction, huh?  The white ponies that made the trip began in very bad shape--old and broken down.  A dog person had picked them after all.  And only pointed at their coats when he chose.  (And I'm not even going to tell you about the way they traveled on the ship.  It's really appalling, but you should read it!)

Scott led ineptly, based on appearance, and by force.  For example, in the last minute, he took an extra person along on the assault on the pole simply because this man was built like a brick. This big, brawny man (who probably starved to death) was the first to die on the long way back from the Pole.  By then, they had been 'man-hauling' for weeks, after the motorized vehicles died, the ponies died, and the dog drivers were sent back to base camp.  Every single day on the march, Scott lamented in his journal about their terrible bad luck--the weather was atrocious, apparently.  Imagine that--terrible weather in Antarctica.  Blizzards at the South Pole--who'd have thought? Scott had no contingencies for anything.  He cut it close, hoped for the best, was appalled by his terrible luck, and passed the blame whenever he could.

The sad ending of Scott's trip was that all 5 men died.  They'd been starving for weeks, suffering from scurvy and frostbite and a loss of heart, having lost the race to the Pole.  The last three simply hunkered down in their sleeping bags in a tent, and wrote letters while they waited to die. 

It's quite the story.  Now I've told you more than you were ever interested in knowing about the South Pole.  But it captures my attention, this story.  The differences between these two men, the way they led, the results, the attitudes of the men in their care.  It's remarkable to me that one man made the worst possible decisions, resulting in more hardship, failure and eventual death, while the other, with forethought and planning, had a trip that was something like a long-distance skiing vacation, where no one even got sick, let alone died.

There are many times when I fly by the seat of my pants in life.  I admit that.  I'm not always the best planner (though actually overplanning runs in my birth-family).  I get annoyed by details, assume I'll figure it out as I go.  Fortunately, I'm not battling the elements of the South Pole (so far anyway)!  But the older I get, the more I'm aware that a little planning, a little forethought goes a long ways.  And though this piece of history bears that out in a huge way, it's a lesson I need.  Build on the foundation of those who have gone before me, like Paul and Peter; stand on the shoulders of those ahead, like the many known and unknown saints who are already with Jesus.  This is good advice in Polar Expeditions, but also in my daily, Kingdom-come Life.  I don't have to re-invent the wheel with God.  Ecclesiastes tells me there is nothing new under the sun.  Maybe I should see that as a good thing.  He's already written about whatever I need, whatever You need.  And His plan is good, acceptable and perfect. So, lace up your boots, people, put on your skis, follow the path He's set before us.  We're surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses, egging us on.

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