Fire And Ice
by Robert Frost
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Amoretti XXX: My Love is like to ice, and I to fire
I have an obscure interest in first person accounts of arctic exploration from about 1880 to 1930. This was a period when men and women still traveled and explored for the sheer adventure of being the first to go some where. My favorite writers are Knud Rasmussen and Peter Freuchen, two college friends, who established the Thule trading station in Greenland as a way to support their real goals, which was to accomplish many firsts exploring the uncharted territory of Greenland and northern Canada and along the way record the ethnography and history of the people of the frozen North. Rasmussen and Freuchen had no interest in going to the North Pole, for it lacked the one thing that fascinated them the most – the Intuit people.
Rasmussen was a anthropologist who was collecting the stories and oral history of the Intuit. Rasmussen and Freuchen both embraced the Intuit way of life, the people and their culture and were uniquely suited for this task. Rasmussen was the son of Missionary and an Intuit woman, who was raised in a traditional village in Greenland, but returned to Denmark for his college education where he met Fruechen. His tales of Greenland and its rugged spirit, inspired the two friends to set out on a life long series of adventures that stand to this day as some of the most remarkable journeys in arctic history.
The two of them accomplished what I consider to be the most incredible arctic feat of exploration ever – the unsupported Fifth Thule expedition. The expedition set out to scientifically prove the origin of the Inuit people, and collect the evidence to help the rest of the world have a broader understanding of this remarkable culture. In a completely self sufficient, unsupported and unresupplied expedition, 7 people on dogsled set out from Greenland to cross over the ice to Canada. After a year of careful documentation of the people and ancient sites of Eastern northernmost Canada, several of the members of the expedition were physically unable to continue, including Freuchen, who suffered extreme frost bite on one leg, eventually resulting in its amputation below the knee. Rasmussen was undeterred and would continue with one man and one woman for 2 and half more years. The three of them would cover 18,000 miles over the course of three years of traversing and criss-crossing all of Northern Canada, across the bearing straight into Russia, only to be denied further passage by Russian authorities, and then back to Alaska, to catch passage and sail back to Greenland. Rasmussen published his journey and scientific findings in a seven volume set and proves what Rasmussen himself accomplished, which is the Intuit people settled the entire top of the world by their ingenuity, athleticism and complete adaptation to the arctic environment. He proved that even in the most isolated areas of the arctic there was a common language, common stories, common religion, common technologies that tied these people together into one society of origin.
Global warming has made the type of expeditions that Rasmussen and Fruechen accomplished impossible, because there is too much unstable ice and open water during the winter in areas that they crossed safely with dog sleds 100 years ago.
The arctic cold has been a natural barrier of protection for the amazing ecosystems of the far north. An environment that was until recently, only experienced by the native people and few adventurers that had the ability to overcome the austerity of the conditions to thrive in extreme elements. I fear that with that barrier of ice and cold diminishing, there will be a renewed fervor by governments and business interests to send expeditions to the North in coming years, not to chart its lands and waters for the sake of pure knowledge and adventure, but to extract samples and create outposts that can facilitate the extraction and exploitation of oil, minerals and natural resources waiting beneath the ice that will be more accessible in the future to a world greedy to strip the arctic of whatever can be exploited to make a buck.
The Northwest Passage, an elusive dream for hundreds of years, is about to become a normalized shipped lane, open to a wide variety of vessels for long periods during the summer months. And with the sudden increase in shipping traffic to this fragile ecosystem, bring a whole new level of pressure with unknowable consequences to our planet. I am sure that neither Peter Freuchen or Knud Rasmussen ever conceived of a reality where their beloved Greenland would be threatened by the melting of the very ice cap that makes Greenland unique.
By T. A. Fry
I should like to go to Greenland
Where ice calves along blue bays.
I would like to go to Greenland
Before it’s glaciers melt away.
I am in wonder of a Greenland
Where all the green is white.
I ponder what I’ve done Dear
To protect the arctic night.
Can we conceive the sky is warming?
Imagine all that sinks beneath?
Sixty meters of rising water
Our modernity will bequeath.
Do we honestly think we’ll build
Dykes strong enough to hold?
Do we honestly think we’ve willed
A future worthy to behold?
It’ll take a thousand years
To melt every single drop.
Will future Pioneers
Have the will to make it stop?
I should like to go to Greenland.
Just not the Greenland of today.
I’d like to go to the Greenland
Where the ice was borne to stay.