Sunday, April 16, 2017

Farthest north .... for a brief moment ....

One hundred twenty-two years ago at this very moment, a wooden ship which had been deliberately frozen into the polar ice cap was adrift within it and captive to it. Each man aboard among the all-Norwegian crew was harboring the hope -- the dream -- of drifting over the North Pole and, by that means, being the first to reach it. The name of the ship was, "Fram," which in the Norwegian language means "forward." It had been designed and constructed for this specific purpose.
 
The leader of the expedition, Fridtjof Nansen, and a companion, Hjalmar Johansen, had left the vessel earlier and were on the ice retreating for Franz Josef Land after an unsuccessful attempt to reach the North Pole by sledges and skis. On April 7 in the year 1895, they had reached a point farther north than anyone before them. It was at that location Nansen decided if he and Johansen did not turn around then and there, death on the ice cap would undoubtedly overtake them. Farthest north, for a moment -- then, the moment is gone and the trek is over and the dream is forever vanished ....
As it was, Nansen and Johansen did spend eight months living in a stone/moss/ice hut at Cape Felder on the western edge of Franz Josef Land, living off polar bear/seal/walrus meat obtained by hunting. Their journey had begun in 1893 and did not conclude until 1896. Nansen, incidentally, had been the first to cross the Greenland ice cap on skis. This dash toward the North Pole venture was his last on the ice. He became a professor of oceanography, and he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for his work with refugees. Johansen went on to explore Antarctic regions, but his luck was bad and his taste for liquor was unquenchable. He committed suicide at age forty-five.
When I was a boy, I idolized Nansen and had dreams of leading a similar life. This took me to books and to hunting and to winter camping on frozen Minnesota lakes in the midst of blizzards and sub-zero temperatures. I named my first canoe Fram, but cruising among January "ice bergs" on Lake Superior was the extent of its "far north" exploits. Hmmmm .... I wonder who the boys of today idolize and what dreams they might have ....
This has been sort of a post .... the photograph, incidentally, was taken of the ice-bound Fram by one of the crew in 1896. The ship and the crew did make it safely back to Norway, and the vessel later spent four years in the Canadian arctic and went on a south polar expedition. It is now on display in the Fram Museum near Oslo.
I will be back sooner or later .... probably later ....


Something special ....