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  • Writer's pictureShana Ritter

Crossing Antarctica

Winter has set in a month early. The trees are bare, the light is thin and there was a delicate covering of ice on the pond this morning, almost a glistening. There is a part of me that rejoices in the longer dark, the turning inwards, the quiet of cold. It is a comfort when there’s warmth to be found by a fire, or under down quilt.

Different of course when there is no warmth to be found. When the body uses all its energy just to maintain. I am reading a Felicity Aston’s memoir about crossing Antarctica alone on skis, which she says she is looking to find what her limits are, how much can she endure. I have never looked to test myself in this way. Never pushed hard to see how much weight I could lift, how far I could hike, how much pain I could endure, alone. It is not my way and yet I find myself drawn to reading memoirs of women who push the extremes; Beryl Markham’s flight across the Atlantic, Savage’s solo row across the Atlantic.

I am not sure why but I am curious to find the crossroads where they stepped into the decision to do this alone. Aston talks about how adventure makes her appreciate home and family and home and family make her value adventure. I think in some ways we all seek that kind of counterbalance; what do I need to do to know myself – how do I share that self with others? When do I push myself forward, when do I lean back?

I wonder if I have grown too used to company and comfort, what possibility am I missing as I look out on the cold gray morning and decide to head for my desk. Or perhaps that is my Antarctica. …


It feels like that sometimes, my life

a great expanse of ice, the horizon

a distant notion, no real sunset or sunrise.

Time is a reflection on blue ice and

I have grown hungry enough to eat myself.

I’d build a fire but I’ve nothing for fuel

only my own bones to light, only

my own tendons drawn tight.

I will rub them together, a spark

one tiny point of ignition

a breaking heat. Only the soles

of my feet will be left to warm.

I sink to my knees to find silence

but the ice is full of sounds, its solidity

bordering on movement, it looks smooth

but I know there are bumps, crevices, caverns

immensity, magnitude, beauty.

I know there is water underneath.

I know the ice is melting.

I no longer remember what brought me out

on the ice, beyond the confines of land

and coastlines, past the memory

of sand or mud. I don’t know what will remain

after I build this fire of myself. I can see

no further than one flame, one blaze

one moment of incandescent light

one star in the wilderness

to mark someone’s journey home.

Shana Ritter (published in Common Ground, 2002)

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