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Re: Antarctica: Near Century Old Butter Found-- Restoration Planned

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avatar Antarctica: Near Century Old Butter Found-- Restoration Planned
December 17, 2009 06:25AM
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article6958507.ece
97-year-old butter found at Robert Scott's Antarctic base
The Antarctic hut used by Captain Robert Scott as his expedition base has released a surprising find, nearly 100 years after the explorer's death - a block of butter

The butter, originally from New Zealand, was found frozen in the stable area adjacent to the Cape Evans hut by members of the Antarctic Heritage Trust involved in restoration work on the building. ....


...The team will now attempt to restore the butter, removing tiny pieces of grit that are embedded in it. It will then be placed back in the stables, where temperatures seldom rise above 10C.....



The cure for a fallacious argument is a better argument, not the suppression of ideas.
-- Carl Sagan
avatar Re: Antarctica: Near Century Old Butter Found-- Restoration Planned
December 17, 2009 04:38PM
Reading the article made me recall a chapter in a charming book of essays titled “Teaching a Stone to Talk / Expeditions and Encounters” by Annie Dillard. (Some of you may recall that Dillard won a Pulitzer Prize back in the mid-70s for her narrative book “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.”) The chapter is called “An Expedition to the Pole” and it juxtaposes the mentality of early Arctic explorers with the role of religion in the world. Portions of that chapter are reproduced below.



The Technology: The Franklin Expedition
The Franklin expedition was the turning point in Arctic exploration. The expedition itself accomplished nothing, and all its members died. But the expedition's failure to return, and the mystery of its whereabouts, attracted so much publicity in Europe and the United States that thirty ships set out looking for traces of the ships and men; these search parties explored and mapped the Arctic for the first time, found the northwest passage which Franklin had sought, and developed a technology adapted to Arctic conditions, a technology capable of bringing explorers back alive. The technology of the Franklin expedition, by contrast, was adapted only to conditions in the Royal Navy officers' clubs in England. The Franklin expedition stood on its dignity.

In 1845, Sir John Franklin and 138 officers and men embarked from England to find the northwest passage across the high Canadian Arctic to the Pacific Ocean. They sailed in two three-masted barques. Each sailing vessel carried an auxiliary steam engine and a twelve-day supply of coal for the entire
projected two or three years' voyage.Instead of additional coal, according to L. P. Kirwan, each ship made room for a 1,200-volume library, "a hand-organ, playing fifty tunes,"china place settings for officers and men, cut-glass wine goblets, and sterling silver flatware. The officers' sterling silver knives, forks, and
spoons were particularly interesting. The silver was of ornate Victorian design, very heavy at the handles and richly patterned. Engraved on the handles were the individual officers' initials and family crests. The expedition carried no special clothing for the Arctic, only the uniforms of Her Majesty's Navy.

The ships set out in high dudgeon, amid enormous glory and fanfare. Franklin uttered his utterance: "The highest object of my desire is faithfully to perform my duty." Two months later a British whaling captain met the two barques in Lancaster Sound; he reported back to England on the high spirits of officers and men. He was the last European to see any of them alive.

Years later, civilization learned that many groups of Inuit—Eskimos—had hazarded across tableaux involving various still-living or dead members of the Franklin expedition. Some had glimpsed, for instance, men pushing and pulling a wooden boat across the ice. Some had found, at a place called Starvation Cove, this boat, or a similar one, and the remains of the thirty-five men who had been dragging it. At Terror Bay the Inuit found a tent on the ice, and in it, thirty bodies. At Simpson Strait some Inuit had seen a very odd sight: the pack ice pierced by the three protruding wooden masts of a barque.

For twenty years, search parties recovered skeletons from all over the frozen sea. Franklin himself—it was learned after twelve years—had died aboard ship. Franklin dead, the ships frozen into the pack winter after winter, their supplies exhausted, the remaining officers and men had decided to walk to help. They outfitted themselves from ships' stores for the journey; their bodies were found with those supplies they had chosen to carry. Accompanying one clump of frozen bodies, for instance, which incidentally showed evidence of cannibalism, were place settings of sterling silver flatware engraved with officers' initials and family crests. A search party found, on the ice far from the ships, a letter clip, and a piece of that very backgammon board which Lady Jane Franklin had given her husband as a parting gift.

Another search party found two skeletons in a boat on a sledge. They had hauled the boat sixty-five miles. With the two skeletons were some chocolate, some guns, some tea, and a great deal of table silver. Many miles south of these two was another skeleton, alone. This was a frozen officer. In his pocket he had, according to Kirwan, "a parody of a sea-shanty." The skeleton was in uniform: trousers and jacket "of fine blue cloth . . . edged with silk braid, with sleeves slashed and bearing five covered buttons each. Over this uniform the dead man had worn a blue greatcoat, with a black silk neckerchief." That was the Franklin expedition.

Sir Robert Falcon Scott, who died on the Antarctic peninsula, was never able to bring himself to use dogs, let alone feed them to each other or eat them. Instead he struggled with English ponies, for whom he carried hay. Scott felt that eating dogs was inhumane; he also felt, as he himself wrote, that when men reach a Pole unaided, their journey has "a fine conception" and "the conquest is more nobly and splendidly won." It is this loftiness of sentiment, this purity, this dignity and self-control, which makes Scott's farewell letters—found under his body—such moving documents.

Less moving are documents from successful polar expeditions. Their leaders relied on native technology, which as every book ever written about the Inuit puts it, was "adapted to harsh conditions."

Roald Amundsen, who returned in triumph from the South Pole, traveled Inuit style; he made good speed using sleds and feeding dogs to dogs on a schedule. Robert E. Peary and Matthew Henson reached the North Pole in the company of four Inuit. Throughout the Peary expedition, the Inuit drove the dog teams, built igloos, and supplied seal and walrus clothing.

There is no such thing as a solitary polar explorer, fine as the conception is.


The Land
Polar explorers—one gathers from their accounts-sought at the Poles something of the sublime. Simplicity and purity attracted them; they set out to perform clear tasks in uncontaminated lands. The land's austerity held them. They praised the land's spare beauty as if it were a moral or a spiritual quality: "icy halls of cold sublimity," 'lofty peaks perfectly covered with eternal snow." Fridtjof Nansen referred to "the great adventure of the ice, deep and pure as infinity . . . the eternal round of the universe and its eternal death." Everywhere polar prose evokes these absolutes, these ideas of "eternity" and "perfection," as if they were some perfectly visible part of the landscape.

They went, I say, partly in search of the sublime, and they found it the only way it can be found, here or there— around the edges, tucked into the corners of the days. For they were people—all of them, even the British— and despite the purity of their conceptions, they man-hauled their humanity to the Poles.

They man-hauled their frail flesh to the Poles, and encountered conditions so difficult that, for instance, it commonly took members of Scott's South Polar party several hours each morning to put on their boots. Day and night they did miserable, niggling, and often fatal battle with frostbitten toes, diarrhea, bleeding gums, hunger, weakness, mental confusion, and despair.

They man-hauled their sweet human absurdity to the Poles. When Robert E. Peary and Matthew Henson reached the North Pole in 1909, Peary planted there in the frozen ocean, according to L. P. Kirwan, the flag of the Dekes: "the colours of the Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternity at Bowdoin College, of which Peary was an alumnus."

Polar explorers must adapt to conditions. They must adapt, on the one hand, to severe physical limitations; they must adapt, on the other hand—like the rest of us—to ordinary emotional limitations. The hard part is in finding a workable compromise. If you are Peary and have planned your every move down to the last jot and tittle, you can perhaps get away with carrying a Deke flag to the North Pole, if it will make you feel good. After eighteen years' preparation, why not feel a little good? If you are an officer with the Franklin expedition and do not know what you are doing or where you are, but think you cannot eat food except from sterling silver tableware, you cannot get away with it. Wherever we go, there seems to be only one business at hand—that of finding workable compromises between the sublimity of our ideas and the absurdity of the fact of us.




There are 14 essays in this exquisite little book, averaging about 3000 words each. As is evident from the above excerpts, Dillard is a wordsmith of the first rank and I heartily recommend that you peruse this book. At the very least, read the first chapter, “Total Eclipse,” in which she recounts her observations and impressions during a trip to Washington’s Yakima Valley to view a 1979 solar eclipse. Another chapter deals with a trip to the Galápagos islands. Over the years, I have given copies to several friends as a gift.
Re: Antarctica: Near Century Old Butter Found-- Restoration Planned
December 21, 2009 08:32AM
Quote
Frank Furter
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article6958507.ece
97-year-old butter found at Robert Scott's Antarctic base
The Antarctic hut used by Captain Robert Scott as his expedition base has released a surprising find, nearly 100 years after the explorer's death - a block of butter

The butter, originally from New Zealand, was found frozen in the stable area adjacent to the Cape Evans hut by members of the Antarctic Heritage Trust involved in restoration work on the building. ....


...The team will now attempt to restore the butter, removing tiny pieces of grit that are embedded in it. It will then be placed back in the stables, where temperatures seldom rise above 10C.....

This being the holiday season, this also reminds me of a 100+ year old, patina-ed but otherwise nicely preserved fruitcake in the Pioneer Museum in downtown Hurricane, Utah, not far Zion NP's Springdale entrance. IIRC, it has buit a single slice removed. It is a testament to the durability and palatability of fruitcakes everywhere ;-)
avatar Re: Antarctica: Near Century Old Butter Found-- Restoration Planned
December 21, 2009 03:28PM
Quote
bpnjensen


This being the holiday season, this also reminds me of a 100+ year old, patina-ed but otherwise nicely preserved fruitcake in the Pioneer Museum in downtown Hurricane, Utah, not far Zion NP's Springdale entrance. IIRC, it has buit a single slice removed. It is a testament to the durability and palatability of fruitcakes everywhere ;-)

I think that is the fate of every fruitcake. Any truth to the report that thinly sliced pieces of fruit cake are used as the heat shield tiles on the space shuttle?



The cure for a fallacious argument is a better argument, not the suppression of ideas.
-- Carl Sagan




Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/21/2009 03:29PM by Frank Furter.
avatar Re: Antarctica: Near Century Old Butter Found-- Restoration Planned
December 21, 2009 04:55PM
Quote
Frank Furter
Any truth to the report that thinly sliced pieces of fruit cake are used as the heat shield tiles on the space shuttle?

No, they have too much mass even when sliced very thin. There's also been some rumors of problems when exposed to hydrazine.
avatar Re: Antarctica: Near Century Old Butter Found-- Restoration Planned
December 21, 2009 06:58PM
Quote
eeek
Quote
Frank Furter
Any truth to the report that thinly sliced pieces of fruit cake are used as the heat shield tiles on the space shuttle?

No, they have too much mass even when sliced very thin. There's also been some rumors of problems when exposed to hydrazine.

They had the same problem with thinly sliced stale bagels.
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