You might expect that most sounds you heard in the Antarctic would be those
that you'd brought with you, perhaps augmented by the that of nearly continuous
winds. When British explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew made their ill-fated
expedition there in 1914, they heard a variety of sounds. Even natural ones
took on completely unnatural significance. Caroline Alexander tells the
tale in her excellent book, The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic
After struggling for several weeks among the constantly-shifting ice pack
of the Weddell Sea, following openings that would appear, close, reopen,
shift direction and then close again, the ship was finally caught fast,
a few miles short of the continent, on January 18th, 1915. From that point
on the ice's movement determined the direction of travel, carrying the Endurance
away from her goal until finally, nine months later, in October, it became
obvious to everyone that the vessel's end was near. Shackleton gave orders
to abandon ship; men and dogs moved off and settled into a camp nearby.
Like relatives gathered around a terminal patient, all waited for the moment
of death. Diaries report the sounds of the end.
The ship's captain Frank Worsley describes the sound of wind shrieking through
the rigging, "...I couldn't help thinking that it was making just the
sort of sound that you would expect a human being to utter if he were in
fear of being murdered." When the wind would momentarily subside, the
ice could be heard grinding against the Endurance's sides. The continuous
sound reminded physicist R. W. James of the sound of London traffic you
would hear sitting in a quiet park.
The Celts describe how a banshee, or domestic spirit, will wail at the moment
of a death in the family, and the Endurance had more than one. On the evening
of October 26th, as the ice began warping the deck of the sharply tilted
wooden ship, twisting it from side to side, eight emperor penguins, an unusually
large number to travel together, approached the ship in solemn procession.
Author Alexander describes the action of the birds. "Intently regarding
the ship for some moments, they threw back their heads and emitted an eerie,
The Endurance exhibit at New York's Museum of Natural History has film footage
of the masts toppling in on the deck. The planking of the hull was forced
apart and water entered faster than it could be pumped. Expedition photographer
Frank Hurley took, "one last look around their old quarters...already
a foot deep in water. The sound of beams splintering in the darkness was
alarming...of all the sights and sounds, it was the clock still ticking
comfortably in the cozy wardroom as the water rose that most unnerved him."
For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor
© 1999 David Minor / Eagles Byte
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