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Favorite Quotes from “Shuffleboard At McMurdo”

“Shuffleboard At McMurdo” is a charmingly biting essay about visiting the National Science Foundation’s research station in Antarctica. It was written by Maciej Cegłowski, the entrepreneur behind no-nonsense bookmarking service Pinboard. Cegłowski raised $37,936 on Kickstarter in August, 2015, to fund his journey to the South Pole.

Even those of us who didn’t contribute to the Kickstarter (or weren’t aware of it at the time) can enjoy the written results. Here are my favorite quotes from “Shuffleboard At McMurdo”:

“The point of building McMurdo was to get Americans to the South Pole, part of an unpublicized Antarctic base race with the Soviet Union. No one had been back to the Pole since the Amundsen and Scott expeditions of 1911, and it was the obvious prestige location in Antarctica. Whoever controlled the Pole would control — well, a tiny area of featureless ice cap.”

“The courteous Russians have hoisted an American flag, which the wind is trying to send back to New Zealand. Like blasting your car defroster on a cold day, wind is the price you pay for ice removal in Antarctica. Anywhere there are bare rocks, you’ll find unspeakable gales keeping them that way.”

Photo of Antarctica's McMurdo Station by Eli Duke.
Photo of Antarctica’s McMurdo Station by Eli Duke.

“I have learned that people willing to spend a fortune on Ross Sea travel share a love of grandeur, remoteness, and filling out forms. During our trip south, the passengers have sometimes seemed more interested in the official names of things than in the things themselves. They fight over the map instead of looking out the window. Their idea of heaven would be completing a tax return on Mars.”

“There is a profound connection between Antarctica and space, not just because polar exploration is a great analogue for the space program, but because all kinds of stuff falls onto the ice cap and then gets caught on promontories of rock as the ice narrows and flows down glaciers into the sea. Like bacon bits scraped off a griddle, space rocks accumulate at glacier edges and make life a breeze for collectors, except for the part where they have to come to Antarctica.”

If you enjoyed those quotes, go read the full essay. I also recommend another piece that Cegłowski wrote about the coldest continent, “Scott and Scurvy”:

“Somehow a highly-trained group of scientists at the start of the 20th century knew less about scurvy than the average sea captain in Napoleonic times. Scott left a base abundantly stocked with fresh meat, fruits, apples, and lime juice, and headed out on the ice for five months with no protection against scurvy, all the while confident he was not at risk. What happened?”

Climbing River Rocks

My body feels confident when I climb river rocks. I inhabit my limbs the way I want to. Weight shifts with each step and I can predict where it will fall, where the momentum will push me. Light sweat on my shoulders as I crouch to watch the bubble shadows cast by river skeeters’ feet. The insects dart across the surface and their expanded silhouettes glide along the grey-green algae at the bottom of two feet of clear water. Each round, dark shadow is ringed by a thin yellow halo of sunshine.

When I was about ten my dad taught me how to climb river rocks along the Tuolumne River. We scrambled over boulders, watching the water. He told me, “Three limbs on the rock, always.” This principle is called “three-point contact”. His lessons stuck in my head: Test your handholds. Don’t commit your weight before you’re sure that the rock is solid. Dad also counselled, “Never turn your back on the ocean,” but that was another time.

climbing river rocks
Photo by Eddie Gianelloni on Instagram.

Nature doesn’t care. We personify this amalgamation of thermodynamic forces and biological phenomena, but actually what we call “nature” is too vast and complex to have predictable moods. Sure, the patterns are measurable, but a day-hiker can’t guess when the old tree across the stream will crack — not without particularly astute intuition. Nature has power beyond your imagining, and you have to maintain the kind of respect entails a lot of fear.

Even when I feel most in control of my physical self, scaling dusty boulders on the way to a waterfall, I’m scared because I know how much it would hurt to fall. I remove my shoes right away; I need to feel where I’m stepping and grip with my toes. I pay close attention. Avoid the wet rocks, slick with algae slime. Otherwise I could break my neck — or my collarbone, or my ankle. Any of those would be excruciating.

Of course, the risk must be what makes the river exciting. Would I be able to relish the feeling of bodily mastery if I wasn’t also contemplating the loss of it? It’s impossible to see without contrasts. You can’t distinguish anything.

Evening at Fallen Leaf Lake
Photograph by Jacek Joniec, for sale on Fine Art America.

River hikes are on my mind because I’m vacationing with my family on the edge of Fallen Leaf Lake, near Lake Tahoe. The area is beautiful — much more lovely than the photo above, despite the hyper-saturated sunset. You can’t imagine how many trees are here (unless you live in a similarly forest-adjacent area). The air smells piney — it makes me want to quit the city. I suppose that’s how you always feel until you get back home to reliable internet and urban debauchery.

Wheels Rumbling On: Notes From The Road

The following was written on January 21st, 2015, when I still intended to make a second issue of my perzine Semi Sonya.

I just got back from a long road-trip with my boyfriend Alex. It wasn’t the longest road-trip that anyone has ever taken, obviously, but for me it was really long. January 4th to January 19th, from the San Francisco Bay Area to Seattle and then back again. By the 15th I was like, “GOD, I’m so tired, I wanna go home, let’s get out of here!”

Traveling can be exhausting. But the trip was also brave and interesting and I loved spending that much time with Alex. I’m glad that we went.

Great Oregon Outback
Photo by Sally.

Last night was the first time I’ve slept alone for more than two weeks, and while it’s nice to thrash and drool without worrying about the other sleeper, I missed my warm cuddly man. I texted him good night but it wasn’t the same, you know?

Anyway, here are two of my first journal entries from the road, lightly edited for readability:

1/6/2015, early evening

I haven’t been journaling as much as I wanted to, as much as I thought I would. Road-tripping is busy busy busy, driving around and seeing people, like Adi [one of my close friends] and Alex’s family. I am tired. Plus it all seems somewhat mundane. Occasionally I notice a moment and think, “I can describe this like a scene in a novel,” but mostly life just feels… normal. Ain’t that always how it goes?

1/7/2015, 10:30am

Currently waiting for Alex’s friend to pick us up and take us out for a pizza lunch in Keizer, the town where Alex grew up. It’s a suburb of Salem, where his parents live now. Their house is walking distance from the Oregon State Hospital, where One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was filmed.

I watched that movie in my high-school psych class, after we learned about the guy who invented/modernized the prefrontal lobotomy (ice picks in through the eyes, basically). In the movie they break into Jack Nicholson’s skull and saw off part of it, which always bothered me because there’s no way that the doctors actually would have chosen the more laborious and dangerous version of the procedure.

I said “where” a lot in that previous paragraph and I think it indicates that this sprawling trip has me thinking about space, about geography. The placement of people, memories, and experiences. The process of searching, of finding, and hopefully of stumbling onto what you didn’t know you’d find. What you wouldn’t have guessed was on your path!

Alex mentioned that there are parallels between our journey and the archetypal hero’s quest. What goes against the trope is our lack of a specific goal, and the fact that we’re a duo with no protagonist/sidekick hierarchy. Of course, we’re each the main character in our own minds, but we’re determined to hold hands and walk side-by-side, or at least to switch off leading when we’re marching single-file.

I’m disturbed to find myself using military language, disturbed to notice the less romantic parallel to colonial Europe’s “discovery” of America. I don’t want to be a traveler who arrives at each destination full of ideas and even requirements, but to a certain extent it’s inevitable. I was about to say, “At least the Pacific Northwest is a lot like home,” but maybe I just don’t seek the experiences that would be novel and edifying.

Hence the importance of stumbling along the way. I am a romantic again, wanting to trip and be caught by strangers who will show me how to tread securely on local land.

Zine Review: Friends, Get Wayward

I just got back from my road trip. It was supposed be an epic journey and for the most part, the trip held up its end of the deal. Last night I came home from driving through hundreds of miles of America, telling Alex to look at the mountains. I said that over and over again: “Alex, look at the mountains!”

Then I asked him to change the music and hand me a potato chip, another potato chip, another potato chip please. Alex was great. We listened to HP Lovecraft stories from LibriVox and it was great. (Example: The Shadow over Innsmouth.)

So anyway, last night I tore into an order from Pioneers Press that arrived while I was away. I had a lovely stack of mail to open and the Pioneers package was what I couldn’t keep my hands off of. After watching Big Love with my mom, I climbed into bed and raced through Becoming the Media: A Critical History of Clamor Magazine (informative) and Daring to Struggle, Failing to Win: The Red Army Faction’s 1977 Campaign of Desperation (brutal).

I had a hell of a time getting sleepy, so I also finished the novel On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee, which was like The Windup Girl meets Brave New World. EXCELLENT.

Can you believe that I haven’t gotten to the point of this post yet? Just now, drinking tea, I read Friends, Get Wayward. The author, Adam Gnade, might be famous. It’s kind of unclear to me, the way it always is with these indie-publishing kids. Adam Gnade reminds me of Daniel Vaccerelli but with a totally different shtick. It’s the dedication to an aesthetic, I guess.

Friend, Get Wayward is a zine by Adam Gnade
Selfies are the pictorial soul of my generation, lol.

Friends, Get Wayward was very stream-of-consciousness. The best parts were vignettes of encounters with strangers, whether direct collisions or conversations that the author overheard and recorded. He mentioned typing on his phone at the airport, and gosh, it was endearing because I do the same thing all the time. On this road trip, I lugged my paper journal with me, but mostly I have iNotes to retrieve from my email and sort.

I gotta complain about one thing: I’m sick of sad-guy writers going on about other classic sad-guy writers. The Beats, especially Kerouac, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, thankfully not Hemingway. I would never deny that these men were geniuses, but UGH, is this how y’all feel when I adulate Sylvia Plath?

I’m not doing a good job of explaining that I liked this zine. I’ll leave you with the quotable quote that stuck in my heart:

"It's a symphony of shit. It's a beautiful life. It's all we get." Original background photo by Daniel Krieg.
Original background photo by Daniel Krieg.

Ain’t that just the nature of existence? The zine costs $4 at Pioneers Press.

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