Posts Tagged ‘books’

Week 3: F 10 November 2017, 23:54. Cape Shirreff, Livingston Island, Antarctica

This past summer on Buldir I was entertained by factoids shared by Kevin and McKenzie from the book “The Last Place on Earth: Amundsen and Scott’s Race for the South Pole.” At the time, my
working in Antarctica was still in the hopeful phase. However, I’ve been interested in the Antarctic for ages, and the information I was given told me the book was well-written and rather entertaining.

At an impressionable age, Fridtjof Nansen’s crossing of Greenland and other polar expeditions inspired the Norwegian Roald Amundsen to pursue exploration. He grew up skiing, took the time
to learn the necessary skills for polar travel, formed a small crew with useful traits and meshable personalities, adapted to circumstances, and constantly worked on ways to improve gear.
When frozen in for winter in the Northwest Passage, he studied the Netsiliks’ (Canadian Eskimos) cold weather clothing and dogsledding skills. By traveling through the Northwest Passage he gained skills as an expedition leader.

In stark contrast, the Brit Robert Scott seems to have only pursued polar travels in the interest of promotion in the English Royal Navy. His personality and work ethic weren’t getting him
anywhere, so he tried the expedition route – despite the fact he himself once said he had no predilection for polar exploration. It sounds like he had a poor personality for leadership,
felt no need to learn skills ahead of time, ignored the lessons learned by those who travelled before him, and chose crew members based on whether he liked them or not – regardless of
skills or experience. He practically shunned skiing and dogsledding in exchange for manhauling and a custom motor sledge designed for snow travel… because he had no idea how to ski or
work dogs! He had no idea how to treat the dogs he took to Antarctica on his first trip, so his mushing endeavors were failures from the get-go.

I’ve lived in the Antarctic for about 2.5 weeks and can now verify what I knew before arriving. Why on earth – specifically the ice and snow-covered earth – would manhauling be the best
way of traveling to the snowy South Pole??? Oh yeah, because clearly skis aren’t helpful in snow, nor are dogs.

Oh wait, that’s only when you’re Scott and have spent no time learning how to ski and even less than no time learning about dog mushing. Reading his opinions on dogs is positively painful.

Reading about the way Amundsen’s team cared for ~100 dogs during their sea voyage from the North Atlantic all the way down to the Bay of Whales in Antarctica makes my limited-experience
dog handler’s heart happy. His top notch dogs chosen from Greenland were well fed, understood to bicker with each other and yet managed in a way to give them freedom on board, and cuddled
with by the ship’s crew. Now that I think about it, it seems that Amundsen’s ship would have been the perfect place for me: his ship, Fram, was quite the rocker and was full of puppies headed for adventure. That’s the dream!

I digress, though. Manhauling, while admittedly slightly satisfying and good for exercise, is exhausting. Nai, the 2nd year seabird tech with whom I’m working, and I have made trips
lugging a couple small fish boxes (large containers used for storage) and a large, heavy tripod on a sled. Snowshoes are a lot better than just wearing boots, but fresh snow sure creates
friction against a sled. When we got back to camp with one load, we more or less staggered inside and, when offered a drink, merely wanted water. We were beat.

That was from hauling one load for ~45 minutes. Robert Scott thought manhauling was a good idea for an entire expedition of hundreds of miles?

Let me help fix the public’s thoughts on Scott and show how utterly ridiculous the man was as a polar explorer. Where maybe I once would have respected him, I have lost almost all respect for his limited accomplishments. Help spread the word: He was a fool.

**I haven’t finished the book yet, but I don’t think I’ll read anything that will change my mind. It is a very entertaining read that clearly lays out the history of the race for the South Pole. Amundsen, on the other hand, was quite the man.**


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Saturday 17 June 2017, week 5: Buldir Island

Coming up with weekly topics is proving more difficult this year. Of course it doesn’t help that I’m struggling to balance it with my same two hobbies from last year, either; reading and journaling are still the evil culprits. Just to send all the blame away from myself, it’s also Kevin and McKenzie’s fault that I’m not writing. They’re always reading, so I want to always be reading!

Instead of forcing some topic, I’m playing my Get Out of Blogging Free card early this year. In the meantime, anyone reading this should go read a book. Here’s what I’ve read since leaving Fairbanks at the end of April:

1. The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud – Essentially about making the most out of life. I could relate to some characters more than expected.
2. The Sea-Wolf – I like being on ships but not with this captain. Life on the Tiglax is much better.
3. Finding Mars – About a Japanese permafrost researcher (based in Fairbanks) who has adventured and/or worked in Australia, the Sahara, Greenland, Antarctica, the Amazon, and Alaska.
4. Snow Falling on Cedars – From the list of options on my AP English summer reading list… I only got around to reading it over 10 years later.
5. The Pleasure Instinct: Why we Crave Adventure, Chocolate, Pheromones, and Music – Lots of science behind this. Interesting to read about babies’ development in the womb. 6. Me Before You – About life for a quadriplegic and his caregivers.
7. Astoria: Astor and Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire – About sea journeys and land expeditions from New York to establish an American empire at Astoria in the early 1810s. (If you’re looking for a book, choose this one!)

Currently reading:
The Possibility Dogs: What I Learned from Second-Chance Rescues about Service, Hope, and Healing – Not the most well-written, in my opinion, but interesting to read about dog training and various types of service dogs.

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“Being Wrong”

My current read, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, is a little deeper than a laughter inducing-Bill Bryson book; as such, it requires reading in smaller doses and with an alert brain. Author Kathryn Schulz interestingly brings up how the word er meant “to move or go” in ancient Indo-European. The linguistic road led to er becoming the root for the Latin verb errare, which means to wander, go astray, or be wrong.

In her book Schulz sets out to explain why being wrong is actually a good thing. She discusses 2 classic wanderers of Western culture: the wandering Jew and the knight errant. The Jew is forced to roam the earth; the knight is on a quest driven by curiosity.

To err is to wander, and wandering is the way we discover the world; and, lost in thought, it is also the way we discover ourselves. Being right might be gratifying, but in the end it is static, a mere statement. Being wrong is hard and humbling, and sometimes even dangerous, but in the end it is a journey, and a story. Who really wants to stay home and be right when you can don your armor, spring up on your steed and go forth to explore the world? True, you might * get lost along the way, get stranded in a swamp, have a scare at the edge of a cliff; thieves might steal your gold, brigands might imprison you in a cave, sorcerers might turn you into a toad *  – but what of that? To fuck up is to find adventure […]

(insert this in place of quoted text for my version* discover a new country, get your car stuck in the mud and then get invited in a house for some tea before 2 Maori guys help you recover your car, jump cartoon-style and try to simultaneously backpedal and turn around mid-air because you nearly stepped on some snake in Australia; student loans might steal your money, fate might give you a town job that turns out to be an entertaining summer, interests might turn you into a seafarer *

Block quoted from Part 1: The Idea of Error, Chapter 2: Two Models of Wrongness in Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz

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You know what kids have so much easier these days? The chance to read.

When we were growing up, my brother and I both read books in bed when we should have been sleeping. Many nights a flashlight and book could be found hidden underneath my pillow. Over the years a bulky flashlight transitioned to a small Maglite that could eventually be slipped inside a headband for fancy hands-free lighting. I had a Mighty Bright clip-on book light at some point, but that was a bit awkward to use while hiding under the covers.

It’s pretty needless to say I lost a couple hours of sleep to reading while growing up, and that hasn’t changed. Now I just don’t have to try hiding it from anyone! The perks of being in charge of my own sleep deprivation are great.

In December 2013 I finally joined the ranks of those who take reading in the dark very seriously. Although I had qualms about reading on a Kindle, the idea of being able to take unlimited books into the field with me was too tempting. Travel via 9-passenger planes, snowmachines, boats, and ATVs is just not conducive to extra weight and bulk, so being able to carry a library in a 6.7″ x 4.6″ x 0.36″ device won my favor. Now I don’t even need to worry about a light because it’s built-in! Seriously, any kids like me have it so easy now.

I have not completely said goodbye to hard copies of books. I’ve always loved turning the pages and monitoring my progress with a bookmark, and so I actually have to confess what happened the first time I cracked open a paperback last summer. After having read strictly on my Kindle for months, I didn’t understand why tapping the bottom right corner of the first page of Cannery Row wouldn’t turn the page. Oh dear, I thought to myself as I likely reddened and realized how quickly technology had changed me. That’s why I won’t be ditching actual books altogether, and it sounds like no one should.

The Amazon Kindle store is impressive, and there are obviously other places to buy books online, but eventually the cost of books can add up. That’s why I have my Kindle to thank for helping me rediscover the power of libraries.

Through the library, I can read and listen to books for free at any time, in any place – provided I’ve planned ahead. I’m able to check out items, download them, and have family hop on my Amazon account to return them. Never have I appreciated libraries as much as I do now. I do sometimes have to go on a waitlist, but there are so many books out there that it doesn’t really matter. Hopefully the rest of America/the world who had, like me, somewhat forgotten about the power of the library will remember how fantastic of an institution it is.

As I mentioned, I do enjoy borrowing and reading tangible books. Although I try to avoid acquiring them unless I can trade them in for credit, I admit my favorite book is one that I could never read on a Kindle and will never trade.favorite bookTrixie is a retired service dog trained through Canine Companions for Independence, and living with Dean Koontz has given her some fantastic insight into life. I laugh out loud every time I read this book and highly recommend it to any dog lover. (Anyone else think I should go on Reading Rainbow?)



One friend once told me he doesn’t think many people have as much fun as me. I’m very rarely unhappy when I’m living in the field – probably because I think of the jobs I’ve held as adventures rather than jobs – or traveling. I think I have Trixie Koontz to thank.


*hopefully she doesn’t mind I shared so much of her book*

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