The first days of May carried no hint of the calamities that would overtake me at the month's end. On the contrary, they were among the most wonderful days I had ever known. The blizzards departed, the cold moved down from the South Pole, and opposite the moon in a coal-black sky the cast-up light from the departed sun burned like a bonfire. During the first six days the temperature averaged -47.03 degrees; much of the time it was deep in the minus forties and fifties. The winds scarcely blew. And a soundlessness fell over the Barrier. I have never known such utter quiet. Sometimes it lulled and hypnotized, like a waterfall or any other steady, familiar sound. At other times it struck into the consciousness as peremptorily as a sudden noise. It made me think of the fatal emptiness that comes when an airplane engine cuts out abruptly in flight. Up on the Barrier it was taut and immense; and, in spite of myself, I would be straining to listen -- for nothing, really, nothing but the sheer excitement of silence. Underground, it became intense and concentrated. In the middle of a task or while reading a book, I was sometimes brought up hard with all my senses alert and suspicious, like a householder who imagines he hears a burglar in the house. Then, the small sounds of the hut -- the hiss of the stove, the chatter of the instruments, the overlapping beats of the chronometers -- would suddenly leap out against the soundlessness, all seeming self-conscious and hurried. And after a big wind I have been startled out of a sound sleep, without understanding why, until I realized that my subconscious self, which had become attuned to the rattling of the stovepipe and the surflike pounding of the blizzard overhead, had been unsettled by the abrupt calm.
It was a queer business. I felt as though I had been plumped upon another planet or into another geologic horizon of which man had no knowledge or memory. And yet, I thought at the time it was very good for me; I was learning what the philosophers have long been harping on -- that a man can live profoundly without masses of things. For all my realism and skepticism there came over me, too powerfully to be denied, that exalted sense of identification -- of oneness -- with the outer world which is partly mystical but also certainty. I came to understand what Thoreau meant when he said, "My body is all sentient." There were moments when I felt more alive than at any other time in my life. Freed from materialistic distractions, my senses sharpened in new directions, and the random or commonplace affairs of the sky and the earth and the spirit, which ordinarily I would have ignored if I had noticed them at all, became exciting and portentous. Thus:
This afternoon, in the lee of the sastrugi formed by the last blow, I discovered some extraordinarily fluffy snow. It was so light that my breath alone was enough to send the crystals scurrying like tumbleweed; so fragile that, when I blew hard, they fell to pieces. I have named it "snow down." Although most of the crystals were not much bigger around than a quarter, some were as small as marbles and others as big as goose eggs. Apparently they were blown in on this morning's light westerly wind. I scooped up enough to fill a box -- no easy task, for even so slight a disturbance as that created by my hands caused the crystals to fly away. The box was half again as big as a shoe box (approximately 600 cubic inches), but the contents, melted in the bucket, yielded barely half a cup of water. . .
Later, during my walk, I saw a moon halo, the first since I've been here. I had remarked inwardly that the moon seemed almost unnaturally bright, but thought no more about it until something -- perhaps a subtle change in the quality of moonlight -- fetched my attention back to the sky. When I glanced up, a haze was spreading over the moon's face; and, as I watched, a system of luminous circles formed themselves gracefully around it. Almost instantly the moon was wholly surrounded by concentric bands of color, and the effect was as if a rainbow had been looped around a huge silver coin. Apple-green was the color of the wide outer band, whose diameter, I estimated, was nineteen times that of the moon itself. The effect lasted only five minutes or so. Then the colors drained from the moon, as they do from a rainbow; and almost simultaneously a dozen massive streamers of crimson-stained aurora, laced together with blackish stripes, seemed to leap straight out from the moon's brow. Then they, too, vanished.
. . . I again saw in the southeast, touching the horizon, a star so bright as to be startling. The first time I saw it several weeks ago I yielded for an instant to the fantastic notion that somebody was trying to signal me; that thought came to me again this afternoon. It's a queer sort of star, which appears and disappears irregularly, like the winking of a light.
The wind vane has been giving quite a bit of trouble lately. I've had to climb the pole once or twice every day to scrape the contact points. The temperature is holding pretty steadily between 50 degrees and 60 degrees below zero; and I must admit that the job is chillier than I bargained for. Freezing my hands, nose, and cheeks, separately or all together every time I mount the pole is an old story by now; today, for a change, I froze my chin. But all this is not as bad as it sounds . . .
This has been a beautiful day. Although the sky was almost cloudless, an impalpable haze hung in the air, doubtless from falling crystals. In midafternoon it disappeared, and the Barrier to the north flooded with a rare pink light, pastel in its delicacy. The horizon line was a long slash of crimson, brighter than blood; and over this welled a straw-yellow ocean whose shores were the boundless blue of the night. I watched the sky a long time, concluding that such beauty was reserved for distant, dangerous places, and that nature has good reason for exacting her own special sacrifices from those determined to witness them. An intimation of my isolation seeped into my mood; this cold but lively afterglow was my compensation for the loss of the sun whose warmth and light were enriching the world beyond the horizon.
That afternoon, for variety's sake, I decided to direct my walk out along the radio antenna, which extended on a line about due east from the shack. The cold was not excessive -- somewhere between 50 degrees and 60 degrees below zero -- but I was astonished to find how much rime had collected on the wire. It was swollen to many times its natural size; so much so, in fact, that I could just encircle it with my fingers; and the weight of the ice had caused it to sag in great loops between the poles.
A day or so before the sun had departed I had planted a bamboo stick about twenty yards beyond the last antenna pole. This was to serve as a beacon in case I ever happened to miss the pole in fog or storm. On this day I found the marker without difficulty.
I was standing there, thinking about something, when I suddenly remembered that I had left the stove going. So I turned back, making for the last antenna pole, whose shadowy pencil form I could just see. Head screwed down inside the windproof hood out of the wind, I paid no attention to where I was stepping. Then I had a horrible feeling of falling, and at the same time of being hurled sideways. Afterwards I could not remember hearing any sound. When my wits returned, I was sprawled out full length on the snow with one leg dangling over the side of an open crevasse.
I lay still, not daring to make a move lest I shake down the ledge supporting me. Then, an inch at a time, I crawled away. When I had gone about two yards, I came slowly to my feet, shivering from the closeness of the escape.
I had broken through the snow bridging of a blind crevasse -- a roofed-over one which you cannot tell from the solid surface. I edged back with my flashlight and took a look. The hole I had made was barely two feet across; and I could see that the roof was twelve inches or so thick. Stretched out on my belly, I pounded the roof in with the marker stick for a distance of several feet; then I turned the flashlight into the crevasse. I could see no bottom. My guess was that the crevasse was at least several hundred feet deep. At the surface it was not more than three feet across; but a little way down it bellied out, making a vast cave. The walls changed from blue to an emerald green, the color of sea ice. The usual crystals created by the condensed exhalations from the warmer depths did not festoon the walls; their absence indicated that the crevasse was of fairly recent origin.
I was glad to leave that place. Good luck had carried me across the crevasse at right angles to its length. Had I been walking in any other direction, I might well have gone to the bottom. Odd, I thought, that it hadn't let me through when I had hit the one weak spot. So as not to make a similar mistake, I fetched back two bamboo poles and planted them in front of the hole.
Today I broke the thermometer I keep in the hut. It is not important, really, as inside temperatures are not a part of my meteorological records; but I have been interested in finding out how cold it gets in the hut during the night when the fire is out.
Curiosity tempted me to ask Little America how the stock market
was going. It was a ghastly mistake. I can in no earthly way alter
the situation. Worry, therefore, is needless. Before leaving
[home] I had invested my own funds -- carefully, I thought -- in
the hope of making a little money and thus reducing the
expedition's debt. This additional loss, on top of ever-mounting
operating expenses, may be disastrous. Well, I don't need money
here. The wisest course is to close off my mind to the bothersome
details of the world.
It was one thing to instruct the mind; it was another to make the mind obey. The nature of the distinction was to be a fundamental part of my self-destruction at Advance Base, as is evidenced by a diary entry about this time: "Something -- I don't know what -- is getting me down," the entry goes. "I've been strangely irritable all day, and since supper have been depressed. . . . [This] would not seem important if I could only put my finger on the trouble, but I can't find any single thing to account for the mood. Yet, it has been there; and tonight, for the first time, I must admit that the problem of keeping my mind on an even keel is a serious one. . . ."
The entire entry, a longish one, is before me now. I have a clear recollection of how it came to be written. Supper was over, the dishes had been washed, the 8 p.m. "ob" was out of the way, and I had settled down to read. I picked up Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class, which I was halfway through, but its concerns seemed fantastically remote to the monocracy of Advance Base. I went from that to Heloise and Abelard, a story I have always loved; after a little while the words began to run together. Queerly, my eyes hurt, my head ached a little, though not enough to bother.
So I turned up the lamp a little, thinking that more light might help, and tried a few hands of solitaire. But this did no good. Nor did bathing my eyes in boric acid. I couldn't concentrate. My whole being was restive and unaccountably troubled. I got up and paced the room. My movements were almost automatic. Two strides -- duck the light, sidestep the stove -- another step -- full turn at the bunk -- back again -- three strides from the door to the radio set -- three back -- and so on, tracing an endlessly repeated L. Months after I had left Advance Base, when the pain was ebbing into forgetfulness, I used to pace my room that way, my steps unconsciously regulated to the dimensions of the shack, and my head jerking away from an imaginary lantern.
That night the peace did not come that should have come. I was like a clock wound up to strike in an empty house. Everything I was doing seemed unfinished and crude, without relationship to the unfathomable desires in my mind. The futility and emptiness of my existence were symbolized by the simple act of jumping up from the chair. Nothing in the everyday habits of a man is ordinarily freighted with more purposefulness than the business of quitting a chair. The swift leverage may impel him on any one of a thousand different errands and opportunities. But with me it led only to blank walls.
I tried to be rational about it. The diary testifies to that. I took my mood apart and studied it as I might have studied the register. Had anything gone wrong during the day? No, it had been a very pleasant day. Though the temperature was in the minus fifties, I had worked hard on the Escape Tunnel; I had supped well on chicken soup, beans, dehydrated potatoes, spinach, and canned peaches. Had I reason to be worried about matters in the world to the north? On the contrary, the news over the last radio schedule had been reassuring. My family was well, and nothing was wrong at Little America. The debt was a problem, but I was used to debts; I could pay off this one as I had paid off the others. My physical condition? Except for the dull ache in my eyes and head, I felt fine; the ache came only at night, anyway, and was gone before I fell asleep. Maybe the fumes from the stove accounted for it. If this was the case, I had better crack the door when the stove was going during the day, and spend more time outside. The diet might also be a contributing cause, but I doubted it. I had been careful about vitamins.
"The most likely explanation," I concluded that night in the diary, "is that the trouble lies within myself. Manifestly, if I can harmonize the various things within me that may be in conflict and also fit myself more smoothly into this environment, I shall be at peace. It may be that the evenness and the darkness and the absence of life are too much for me to absorb in one chunk. I cannot accept that as a fact, if only because I have been here but forty-three days and many months must be lived out which will be no different from the first. . . . If I am to survive -- or at least keep my mental balance -- I must control and direct my thoughts. This should not be difficult. Any intelligent man should be able to find means of existence within himself. . . . "
Even from this distance I maintain that the attitude was a sensible one. The only fault was its glibness. The reasoning was too pat. I can see that now, but I lacked the prescience to see it then. It was true, as I reasoned that night in May, that the concerns and practices of the outer world had not intruded into my existence. That was proved by the weeks of utter tranquillity. It was also true, as I had concluded, that the way to keep them from intruding was through the censorship and control of the mind. But beyond these was a truth which that night I did not recognize; and this truth was that the whole complex nervous-muscular mechanism which is the body was waiting, as if with bated breath, for the intrusion of familiar stimuli from the outside world, and could not comprehend why they were denied.
A man can isolate himself from habits and conveniences -- deliberately, as I have done; or accidentally, as a shipwrecked sailor might -- and force his mind to forget. But the body is not so easily sidetracked. It keeps on remembering. Habit has set up in the core of the being a system of automatic physio-chemical actions and reactions which insist upon replenishment. That is where the conflict arises. I don't think that a man can do without sounds and smells and noises and touch, any more than he can do without phosphorus and calcium. That is, in general, what I meant by the vague term "evenness."
So I learned at Latitude 80 degrees 08' South. It was exhilarating to stand on the Barrier and contemplate the sky and luxuriate in a beauty I did not aspire to possess. In the presence of such beauty we are lifted above natural crassness. And it was a fine thing, too, to surrender to the illusion of intellectual disembodiment, to feel the mind go voyaging through space as smoothly and felicitously as it passes through the objects of its reflections. The body stood still, but the mind was free. It could travel the universe with the audacious mobility of a Wellsian time-space machine.
The senses were isolated in soundless dark; so, for that matter, was the mind; but one was stayed, while the other possessed the flight of a falcon; and the free choice and opportunity of the one everlastingly emphasized the poverty of the other. From the depth of my being would sometimes surge a fierce desire to be projected spectacularly into the living warmths and movements the mind revisited. Usually the desire had no special focus. It sought no single thing. Rather it darted and wavered over a panorama of human aspects -- my family at dinner time, the sound of voices in a downstairs room, the cool feeling of rain.
Small matters, all of them; not realities but only the
manifestations of reality. Yet, they and a thousand other
remembrances of like substance assailed me at night. Not with the
calm, revivifying strength of treasured memories; but bitterly and
provokingly, as if they were fragments of something vast and not
wholly recognizable which I had lost forever. This was the basis
of my mood that night in May. Like fingers plucking at a
counterpane, my thoughts moved through the days and nights of an
existence that seemed to be irrevocably gone. In that mood I had
walked before; I would walk like that again; and the glowing
tranquillity built up in the afternoon would go out like a spent
Nevertheless, I practiced my preachments of a disciplined mind. Or perhaps discipline isn't exactly the right word; for what I did, or tried to do, was to focus my thinking on healthy, constructive images and concepts and thus crowd out the unhealthy ones. I built a wall between myself and the past in an effort to extract every ounce of diversion and creativeness inherent in my immediate surroundings. Every day I experimented with new schemes for increasing the content of the hours. "A grateful environment," according to Santayana, "is a substitute for happiness," for it can stimulate us from without just as good works can stimulate us from within. My environment was intrinsically treacherous and difficult, but I saw ways to make it agreeable. I tried to cook more rapidly, take weather and auroral observations more expertly, and do routine things systematically. Full mastery of the impinging moment was my goal. I lengthened my walks and did more reading, and kept my thoughts upon an impersonal plane. In other worlds, I tried resolutely to attend to my business.
All the while I experimented steadily with cold weather clothing. Inside the shack my usual outfit consisted of a thick woolen shirt, breeches, and underwear (medium weight); plus two pairs of woolen socks (one pair heavy, the other medium); plus a pair of homemade canvas boots, which were soled with thin strips of hairless sealskin, lined with a half-inch thickness of felt, and secured to the ankles by means of leather tongs fastened to the soles. The feet are most vulnerable to cold. They feel chilly sooner and stay that way longer than any other part of the body. This is partly because the circulation in the feet is not so good as in the rest of the body and because the cold from the snow gets to them from conduction and causes condensation. The permeability of canvas was a partial solution to the second difficulty. By making the boots two inches longer and half again as wide as ordinary shoes, I assisted the circulation. The boots were about as handsome as potato sacks, but they worked very well indeed. Whenever I had been a considerable time in the cold, I always changed my socks and inner liners and let the wet ones dry on the stove. The inner soles of my boots were coated with a layer of ice that never thawed. Cold was nothing new to me; and experience had taught me that the secret of protection is not so much the quantity or weight of the clothes as it is the size and quality and, above all, the way they are worn and cared for.
After I'd been at Advance Base a little while I could tell, from a glance at the thermograph, exactly what clothing I would need topside. If it were a matter of taking a quick observation, I'd just slip on a canvas windbreaker, mittens, and a woolen cap that pulled down over the ears. If I had shoveling to do, I'd substitute a helmet for the cap, and add windproof socks, pants, and parka. Walking, I'd wear a woolen parka under the windproofs, which are nothing more mysterious than fine-spun unbleached cotton blouses and pants, made of material no heavier than ordinary sheeting. I've felt wind cut though half an inch of wool as if it were nothing at all; whereas, paper-thin windproofs, closed at the ankles, chin, and waist with draw strings or elastics, were scarcely penetrated. The ideal material is not completely windproof; but lets enough air through to prevent moisture from collecting. At 65 degrees below zero, I usually wore a mask. A simple thing, it consisted of a wire framework overlaid with windproof cloth. Two funnels led to the nose and mouth, and oval slits allowed me to see. I'd breathe in through the nose funnel, and out through the mouth funnel; and, when the latter clogged with ice from the breath's freezing, as it would in short order, I brushed it out with a mitten. On the very cold days, if I had to be out two hours or more, I usually wore my fur outfit (pants, parka, mittens, and mukluks), which was made of reindeer skin, the lightest and most flexible of the warm furs. Thus protected, I could walk through my own inhospitable medium as well insulated as a diver moving through his.
Thus in May, as in April, I never really lacked for something to do. For all the hush and evenness and the slow pulse of the night, my existence was anything but static. I was the inspector of snowstorms and the aurora, the night watchman, and father confessor to myself. Something was always happening, for better or worse. For example, the Tuesday radio schedule with Little America was eliminated, to save gasoline; while this left a blank spot in the hours, the remaining two schedules in turn became more animated. There was always a message from the family in our own private code, which Dyer read with a gracious and unflagging courtesy: "A as in Arthur, L as in laughter, C as in ceiling . . ." I can still hear him going on. Sometimes there were messages from friends. One message came from my old friend Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House, saying that he hoped that "the night was not too cold or the wind too strong for an occasional promenade in the dark." And almost always Poulter, or Rawson (now fully recovered), or Siple, or Noville, or Haines, or Innes-Taylor entered into the conversation to discuss an expedition problem or merely pass the time of day.
When I gained in one direction, I seemed to lose in another. Just when I was congratulating myself on having mastered the job of weather observer, the outside thermograph began to act up. A devilish contrivance, it occupied the instrument shelter topside, where hoarfrost settled on the trace, the pen, the drum, and even the workings. On the one occasion I brought the instrument into the shack to change the sheet and make an adjustment, the difference in temperature coated the metal with rime and stopped it dead. Thereafter I had no choice but to make the adjustments in the chill of the tunnel, with no protection for my hands except thin silk gloves; even those seemed infernally clumsy when I had to deal with the speed regulator, which must have been invented for the specific purpose of plaguing weather men.
Thus, even in the heart of the Ross Ice Barrier a solitary man had plenty to occupy him. Thus in the diary: ". . . I got Canfield twice tonight -- extraordinary! The only games I played, too." And again: ". . . One of my favorite records is 'Home on the Range.' It's the second song I've ever learned to sing. (The other was 'Carry Me Back To Old Virginny,' and even that I never dared to sing except in the cockpit of an airplane, where nobody could hear me.) And tonight I sang while washing the dishes. Solitude hasn't mellowed my voice any, but I had great fun. A gala evening, in fact." The diary became more than a record; it became a means to think out loud. This was a pleasant way of filling the last hour; also, it helped to stabilize my philosophy. For example:
. . . I have been persistent in my effort to eliminate the after-supper periods of depression. Until tonight my mood has been progressively better; now I am despondent again. Reason tells me that I have no right to be depressed. My progress in eliminating the indefinable irritants has been better than I expected. I seem to be learning how to keep my thoughts and feelings on an even keel, for I have not been sensible of undue anxiety. Therefore, I suspect that my dark moods come from something affecting my physical being -- possibly fumes from the stove, the lantern, or the gasoline generator. If that be the case, then my state of mind may possibly have helped to offset the depressing consequences of the poisoning -- if that is what is affecting me.
It is really essential that I take careful stock of my situation because my enemy is subtle. This doesn't mean that I have become too introspective or that I am taking myself too seriously. My thoughts have been objective enough. But, if something is poisoning or otherwise afflicting my body, what effect will this have on my peace of mind? Certain types of physical ailments have a definitely depressing effect. The question is, how much can this effect be overcome by disregarding or even denying its existence? Suppose the disorder is organic and lies in a deep-seated complaint. Suppose it comes from bad food, from germs, or from the gases given off by the stove. How much resistance, then, can my mind impart to the body if the mind is properly directed?
Possibly something is harming me physically, and I am making things worse by some negative subconscious emotion. Then my mind and body are both sick, and I have a vicious circle to break. Do the mind and the body exist separately, along parallel lines? Is the physical part mostly mental, or the mind mostly physical? Indeed, how much division is there between mind and body? The body can take charge of the mind, but isn't it natural and best for the mind to take charge of the body? The brain is part of the body, but I am not conscious of my brain. The mind seems to be the real "I." . . .
Which is it, then? My mind or my body or both? It is of vital importance that I find the truth. Aside from the slight trouble with my eyes and the fact that my lungs are still sensitive to cold, I am not conscious of any physical deterioration. Diet, I am sure, has nothing to do with my moodiness. The fumes are the one question mark. The pain in my eyes and the headachy feeling come in the early evening, after the stove has been on a long time. And sometimes the air in the tunnel is thick after the gasoline engine has been running during a radio schedule. But it is hard to believe that the exhaust gases from either the stove or the engine are really damaging. The ventilation seems to be adequate, so long as I keep the vents clear of ice...
I remember that after finishing the foregoing entry I got up and inspected the stove. I walked all around, covertly scrutinizing the simple structure as I might a friend whose motives I had come to suspect. But my expression must have been anything but grave. The stove was more ludicrous than sinister. At the moment it was performing the humble duty of warming the water bucket in which my underwear was soaking. Even the gentle hiss of the burner seemed ineffectual; and the contrast between the tiny stove, which came just above my knees, and the grotesquely attenuated length of pipe was as ridiculous as anything of the sort could be. The only faults I could find with it were two. One was the burner's tendency to splutter and smoke from the water dripping down from the bucket when I melted snow. The other was the tendency of the pipe to fill with ice, and then, as it thawed, to let the water pour down into the stove. I had already made a hole in a right-angle joint to catch the water before it reached the burner; if that didn't work I could bend the joint into a V, making an easily drained trap.
Beyond this I could not think of anything important to do; for that matter, nothing more seemed necessary. The ventilating pipes were drawing well, considering the conditions under which they were operating. Certainly I had plenty of air. Every now and then during the day I'd crack the door an inch or two; when the room turned so cold that my nose hurt, I'd shut it again. To make the relatively distant reaches more attractive, I named the corner Palm Beach and the other Malibu; but with the door open I seldom felt very comfortable in either place without fur pants on. This is the honest truth. Indeed, on more than one occasion the glass of water which I put down beside the key at the start of a radio schedule was skimmed over with ice before I had time to drink it.
As the diary testifies, my mind was satisfied that the diet was providing the proper amount of vitamins. True, I had already pulled in my belt two notches, and would take in a third notch before the month was out. But that was to be expected. Although I had made an exhaustive study of dietetics, especially vitamins, in connection with provisioning my expeditions, just to be on the safe side, I decided to consult an excellent authority, called New Dietetics, a present from my friend John H. Kellogg. At first, thought I hunted high and low, I couldn't find the book; finally I asked Dyer, on a radio schedule, please to send somebody after Siple and find out from him where it had been stowed. Ten minutes later Siple sent word back that he had last seen the book in a box on the veranda. And there I found it.
A quick reading of the book confirmed what I knew already: namely, that so far as choice of foods went, my diet was thoroughly balanced. But, as a double check, I asked Little America to consult a nationally known food laboratory in Rochester, New York. The experts there promptly reported back that my diet was adequate in every respect.
12:15 a.m. It is late, but I've just had an experience which I wish to record. At midnight I went topside to have a last look at the aurora, but found only a spotty glow on the horizon extending from north to northeast. I had been playing the victrola while I waited for the midnight hour. I was using my homemade repeater and was playing one of the records of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. The night was calm and clear. I left the door to my shack open and also my trapdoor. I stood there in the darkness to look around at some of my favorite constellations, which were as bright as I had ever seen them.
Presently I began to have the illusion that what I was seeing was also what I was hearing, so perfectly did the music seem to blend with what was happening in the sky. As the notes swelled, the dull aurora on the horizon pulsed and quickened and draped itself into arches and fanning beams which reached across the sky until at my zenith the display attained its crescendo. The music and the night became one; and I told myself that all beauty was akin and sprang from the same substance. I recalled a gallant, unselfish act that was of the same essence as the music and the aurora.
10 p.m. Solitude is an excellent laboratory in which to observe the extent to which manners and habits are conditioned by others. My table manners are atrocious -- in this respect I've slipped back hundreds of years; in fact, I have no manners whatsoever. If I feel like it, I eat with my fingers, or out of a can, or standing up -- in other words, whichever is easiest. What's left over, I just heave into the slop pail, close to my feet. Come to think of it, no reason why I shouldn't. It's rather a convenient way to eat; I seem to remember reading in Epicurus that a man living alone lives the life of a wolf.
A life alone makes the need for external demonstration almost disappear. Now I seldom cuss, although at first I was quick to open fire at everything that tried my patience. Attending to the electrical circuit on the anemometer pole is no less cold than it was in the beginning; but I work in soundless torment, knowing that the night is vast and profanity can shock no one but myself.
My sense of humor remains, but the only sources of it are my books and myself, and, after all, my time to read is limited. Earlier today, when I came into the hut with my water bucket in one hand and the lantern in the other, I put the lantern on the stove and hung up the bucket. I laughed at this; but, now when I laugh, I laugh inside; for I seem to have forgotten how to do it out loud. This leads me to think that audible laughter is principally a mechanism for sharing pleasure.
I find, too, that absence of conversation makes it harder to me to think in words. Sometimes, while walking, I talk to myself and listen to the words, but they sound hollow and unfamiliar. Today, for instance, I was thinking of the extraordinary effect of the lack of diversions upon my existence; but describing it is beyond my power. I could feel the difference between this life and a normal life; I could see the difference in my mind's eye, but I couldn't satisfactorily express the subtleties in words. That may be because I have already come to live more deeply within myself; what I feel needs no further definition, since the senses are intuitive and exact. . .
My hair hasn't been cut in months. I've let it grow because it comes down around my neck and keeps it warm. I still shave once a week -- and that only because I have found that a beard is an infernal nuisance outside on account of its tendency to ice up from the breath and freeze the face. Looking in the mirror this morning, I decided that a man without women around him is a man without vanity; my cheeks are blistered and my nose is red and bulbous from a hundred frostbites. How I look is no longer of the least importance; all that matters is how I feel. However, I have kept clean, as clean as I would keep myself at home. But cleanliness has nothing to do with etiquette or coquetry. It is comfort. My senses enjoy the evening bath and are uncomfortable at the touch of underwear that is too dirty.
I've been trying to analyze the effect of isolation on a man. As I said, it is difficult for me to put this into words. I can only feel the absence of certain things, the exaggeration of others. In civilization my necessarily gregarious life with its countless distractions and diversions had blinded me to how vitally important a role they really did play. I find that their sudden removal has been much more of a wrench than I had anticipated. As much as anything, I miss being insulted every now and then, which is probably the Virginian in me.
. . . The silence of this place is as real and solid as sound. More real, in fact, than the occasional creaks of the Barrier and the heavier concussions of snow quakes. . . . It seems to merge in and become part of the indescribable evenness, as do the cold and the dark and the relentless ticking of the clocks. This evenness fills the air with its mood of unchangeableness; it sits across from me at the table, and gets into the bunk with me at night. And no thought will wander so far as not eventually to be brought up hard by it. This is timelessness in its ultimate meaning. Very often my mood soars above it; but, when this mood goes, I find myself craving change -- a look at trees, a rock, a handful of earth, the sound of foghorns, anything belonging to the world of movement and living things.
But I refuse to be disconcerted. This is a great experience. The despondency which used to come after supper -- probably because that is the hour when we expect companionship -- seems to have disappeared. Incidentally, I have mastered the business of waking myself in the morning; it has returned as mysteriously as it disappeared. Every morning for the last fortnight I've awakened within five minutes of the time I set in my mind.
I'm getting absent-minded. Last night I put sugar in the soup, and tonight I plunked a spoonful of cornmeal mush on the table where the plate should have been. I've been reading stories from several old English magazines. I got started on a murder serial, but I'll be damned if I can find two crucial installments. So I've had no choice but to try the love stories, and it is queer to reflect that beyond the horizon the joyful aspects of life go on. Well, this is the one continent where no woman has ever set foot; I can't say that it is any better on that account. In fact, the stampede to the altar that took place after the return of my previous expedition would seem to offer strong corroboration of that. Of the forty-one men with me at Little America, thirty were bachelors. Several married the first girls they met in New Zealand; most of the rest got married immediately upon their return to the United States. Two of the bachelors were around fifty years old, and both were married shortly after reaching home. There are only a few left, and I suspect their lonesome state is not entirely their fault.
It's just a week since the last after-supper depression. I don't want to be overconfident, but I believe I have it licked. . . .
. . . I have more leisure that I shall probably ever have again. Thanks to the routine way I do things, my opportunities for intellectual exercise are virtually unlimited. I can, if I choose, spend hours over a single page in a book. I thought tonight what a very full and simple life it is -- indeed, all I really lack is temptation.
Partly as an amusement I have been speculating on thought of harmony. If man is, as I believe, an integral part of the universe and since grace and smoothness mark the movements of most things in it -- such as the electrons and protons within the atom and the planets within the solar system and the stars within the galaxies -- then a normal mind should function with something of the same harmoniousness.
Anyhow, my thoughts seem to come together more smoothly than ever
before. . . .
This was a grand period; I was conscious only of a mind utterly at peace, a mind adrift upon the smooth, romantic tides of imagination, like a ship responding to the strength and purpose in the enveloping medium. A man's moments of serenity are few, but a few will sustain him a lifetime. I found my measure of inward peace then; the stately echoes lasted a long time. For the world then was like poetry -- that poetry which is "emotion remembered in tranquillity."
Perhaps this period was just the repeated pattern of my youth. I
sometimes think so. When I was growing up, I used to steal out of
the house at night, and go walking in Glass's woods, which were a
little way up the road from our place. In the heavy shadows of the
Shenandoah Valley hills, the darkness was a little terrifying, as
it always is to small boys; but, when I would pause and look up
into the sky, a feeling that was midway between peace and
exhilaration would seize me. I never quite succeeded, as a boy, in
analyzing that feeling, any more than I did when it used to come
to me as a naval officer, in the night watches at sea, and later
when, as an explorer, I first looked upon mountains and lands
which no one before me had ever seen. No doubt it was partly
animal: the sheer expanding discovery of being alive, of growing,
of no longer being afraid. But there was more to it than just
that. There was the sense of identification with vast movements:
the premonition of destiny that is implicit in every man; and the
sense of waiting for the momentary revelation.