The Seductive Folds of the Sleeping-Bag

2 February 1911 and 3 February 1911 proved to be incredibly significant for the British Antarctic Expedition. Not because the Depot Laying Journey made more than its expected progress. Indeed, the company put in a respectable nine miles on the days' hauling behind ponies wallowing in soft snow. They laid and then broke camps 4 and 5. Rather, the amazing development is a sudden and breathtaking poetic turn in Scott's journal entries. To the recounting of the daily events, which stray only a little of the necessity imposed on the company by their mission and the harsh climate, Scott began to jot down his "impressions." They are evocative and earnest, if a little saccharine. The title to today's blog is the first line in the impressions Scott recorded on 2 February. From the intimacy and attentiveness these "impressions contain," it is clear that Scott is romantically attuned to this place, what he calls a "great white dessert." (Journals, p. 115, Carroll & Graf [1996]). That other bloke will win this mad, mad race. And Shackleton may be better remembered as a triumphing hero. But they were only visitors to the southern continent. This is Scott's land, home of "wind-blown furrows" and "drift snow like finest flour. . ." (Journals, p. 115, Carroll & Graf [1996]).

Scott ordered the company to march at night when the cooler temperatures would hold the snowy surface better for the ponies. Even the single of pair of pony show-shoes in the company's possession - when put to their intended use - was enough to stir Scott's ecstasy: "the triumph of the snow-shoe again." (Journals, p. 116, Carroll & Graf [1996]).

As for the absurd debate over the advantages of ponies or dogs, Scott is already showing himself to be stubbornly inflexible. On 3 February 1911 he devoted his "impressions" to agonizing over the "pathetic" sight of the ponies in the deep snow, plunging "gamely until exhausted." (Journals, p. 116-117, Carroll & Graf [1996]). Nevertheless, the last entry of the day is devoted to a disturbed recounting of the dogs' "alarming" ferocity, which turns them from tame creatures to "blind, unreasoning" beasts. (Journals, p. 118-119, Carroll & Graf [1996]). Scott was never going to be the man to conquer this continent with dogs.