Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Melancholia on Ice - Day 6

Day 6 (Thursday 6th December 2018)
Six (James Six) - the name of the man who invented the maximum/minimum
thermometer in 1780. He was from a refugee family that moved to England
in the 15th century to escape religious persecution. They were silk weavers for a
few generations but, by the time Six stepped into the family concern, silk weaving
was in decline due to cheap imports from Persia and India. So he became a
meteorologist and Natural Philosopher. He studied temperature in Canterbury.
We are nearing the end of the first week of Advent and I must confess that it has been a delight sharing some of the wonderful blogs that people have written over the past five years  - we have read about love, loss, legacies and lessons. Today's post maintains the high standard that has been set before. It is written by my friend, the ever-insightful Simon Heath. Simon describes himself as a "pragmatic idealist". He took advantage of a redundancy opportunity to leave conventional corporate life, having been Head of Operations and Global Workplace Strategy for a global commercial real estate business, and having earned his spurs in financial services. He is now a consulting artist. Using his considerable artistic talents, combined with his genuine understanding of business and the world of work, he produces illustrations that help communicate and make messages stick.

In addition to being able to make people and organisations see things in a different way and to draw inspiration, Simon is a devoted family man. He lives with his wife and two children close to Henry VIII's former palace to the west of London. He is well-read and interested in and knowledgeable about films. He cares about the world and the environment. I suppose he can best be described as a wonderful polymath who remains observant and curious. He and I both share an interest in polar exploration. If you want to know more about him and his thoughts, I urge you read his infrequent blog: Murmuration or else follow him on Twitter, his handle is @SimonHeath1.


Melancholia on Ice 

The 6th of August 1987 was the day before my 16th birthday. I had spent the previous night in a small 2-man tent on a patch of fine white sand at the bottom of a tumble of moraine at the side of an as-yet unnamed glacier. 

Glacier at Raudfjorden

From the entrance to my tent I could look out across the ice-flecked waters of Raudfjorden and to the left the open Arctic Ocean and over the horizon, some 500 miles away, the Pole. After a hurried breakfast we climbed the glacier to the ice-field beyond. Our destination, a previous unclimbed peak, lay off in the distance. This early in the morning the ice was still firm and we made swift progress. As we prepared for the final push our team leader turned to me and offered me the chance to lead. And so I did. A first ascent. Heart-pounding, I turned full circle. At that height, the ice-fields of north-western Svalbard stretched as far as the eye could see. 

From that height the only way was down. 

From the highs of polar exploration the only way was down. Down to the more prosaic concerns of teenage life. I didn’t bring my heart back with me. I’d left it in the Arctic.

I went back to the Arctic again three years later. And there, among the wolves, 

wolves chasing muck-oxen

the hares and the musk oxen, 

Arctic hare

I found my heart on the tundra. 

But, returning south once more, a piece of it stayed behind. I swore I’d return. But I never did. Ever since, I’ve felt the hollow sensation of its absence. I had dreamed about the Arctic since I read about the exploits of the early explorers as a wee boy. 

Shackleton (left) at Ocean Camp 1915

I never dreamt it would claim a part of me so profoundly. So profoundly that many experiences since have felt a trifle hollow. This missing part of me isn’t filled by the whisky of which I’m so fond. Or by going up mountains to ski. It’s where I am when I’m not here. On a train, but not here. In an office, but not here. In the canyons of the city, I’m most often there and not here.

The Arctic I saw is long gone. Cruise ships now visit the fjord where I first lost my heart. The tourists return more reliably than the sea ice. And gone with the ice are the seals. And with them, the bears. 

Svalbard polar bear photo by Mike Reyfman 

The boy is gone too and I don’t know how to go back.

Simon in the Arctic

In the spirit of sharing our younger selves, here is a picture of me at a similar age to Simon above:

No comments:

Post a Comment