Cape Evans Centenary
Robert Falcon Scott and his party of thirty landed at Cape Evans on Ross Island on the 4th of January 1911. To mark this centenary, I am posting a poem from my poetry collection K175 – Antarctic Fragments, which will be published on 29th March 2012, the centenary of Scott’s death.
Campsite at Cape Evans
The bushman and I drop down onto the scoria,
in the lee of the wind, dig a hole with our hands
for the metal bowl, and light our cigarettes.
We look out across the ice, eyes shaded against
the hue and sun of the Antarctic night, and
shout our swapped stories into the gale that grabs
at us despite our shelter; talk of home and family.
His hands are brown, coloured by toil and climate,
sinuous as the wood he works. For many years
he has been rescuing history from the strife of time,
rebuilding travellers’ huts around the edges of this
continent. Each one different, he says, for each has
its own spirits, its restless ghosts, its faithful souls;
a presence shaped by suffering and sacrifice.
Human courage and determination has left its sweat
in each grain of wood, its grime on every particle
that dances on the sun’s music inside these places,
an exuberance beyond the achievement of construction,
over and above the intricacies of engineering, the
carpenter tells me, his face alight with reverence.
We are the servants of history, lucky to be here.
The bushman and I take a drink while we smoke
our next. The Transantarctic Mountains watch our
conversation from across the sea ice, see our breath
rise above the tops of our tents, wash away towards
the mainland and scatter. Behind us, Erebus smokes,
too, his plume rising to meet the clouds that gather
around his crown to create the coming blizzard.
We fall silent, awed by nature’s brutal scale. This
is now no place for voices. Seals scatter from some
unseen tremor they mistake for a hunting orca. The
penguins race for the safety of the icy bluff. And
then nothing. The seals burrow back down into the
snow and the penguins dive into the pool exposed
in the breaking ice. Cape Evans is at peace again.