Monday, April 28, 2014

1: Big White Duck - Antarctica

Excerpts from chapter one of my memoir 

 “This turbulent silence, the sprawling ice, and the occasional sharp gusts of wind warn that eventually you will make a mistake. The threat is babbled endlessly, as if Antarctica were a lunatic.” Nicolas Johnson, Big Dead Place.

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Courtesy of U.S. National Science Foundation
My sixth grade teacher stood at the blackboard, back to us, scrolled down a window shade map of the world - a geography lesson. She wore a light green sweater with short fuzz that I loved – it felt good on my skin when she patted my arm with approval. My Father had said she was pretty - blonde, younger than my parents. I could have asked him more about that but he died a few months ago. 

I was there, in the backseat of my uncle’s car, a green Plymouth sedan, in the parking lot outside his hospital room –my brothers and I were too young to be allowed in. My uncle was about to drive us home when we heard my Mother scream from the window of my Father’s room. “Eager, come back, Pete just died.” My first experience with raw terror just happened.

He stopped the car, went to my Father’s room, came back, told us our Dad was gone. Later my Mother arrived home, I met her on the front steps, hugged her. She said “You’re the man of the family now.” I was ten.

My teacher’s finger scanned various places - she named continents, countries, capitals. I knew them all. I saw a thin, ragged white strip running along the bottom of the map, had noticed that before, the coast of Antarctica. I wondered what was left off the bottom edge.

At recess I inspected the map up close. “Where’s the rest of the world down here?” I asked her. She pointed to a small circular inset map at the lower corner.

“If you could fly above the bottom of the world and look down you would see Antarctica, a land covered in ice,” she told me.

“Wow. How big is it?” I asked.

“As big as the U.S. and Mexico put together,” she said, pointed to those countries.

I thought it looked like an enormous white duck, the Antarctic Peninsula jutted out, made a duck’s bill to nibble on the tail of South America, the duck’s back the south edge of the Pacific Ocean, its belly faced the Indian Ocean. Many parts were labeled with Unexplored. On the duck’s head was printed Marie Byrd Land. This was 1953.


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