Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Hello to those of you still checking this poorly updated site. I have to apologize for not writing for so long. I have finally begun the massive write up for my thesis and feel little inclined to write in my free time. So, rather than discuss our continuing international food experiments (off and on I must admit) or tell you about our various tramps (which I will try to get to eventually) or ramble on about our impending residency (which will definitely show up), I will offer some of my reflections on Antarctica. As part of my exploration of the perceptions of Antarctica by New Zealanders I have been doing self-reflective writing throughout my studies. They talk about where my original ideas and drive rose from and how my research and experiences have influenced and changed my perceptions. It is not often we take the time to reflect on how experience changes our perceptions, but I offer the idea that taking the time now and again can help us understand not only how we affect places or events, but also how they affect us.

10 Mar. 09

The first time I remember wanting to go to Antarctica was the summer of 1998 when I was in Britain with my family on a holiday. We were in Bath staying in Beckfords’ Tower, a landmark trust property. I had just purchased a book about Shackletons’ Endurance expedition in order to write an essay for a Canadian essay competition. It was a big picture book, with stories and photos from their journey. I learned about how their ship sank into the ice, how they lived on ice floes for months on end, how they survived on penguin and seal meat, how 6 of them made an amazing 700km voyage in the open seas in a tiny boat to South Georgia to rescue the rest of the crew, not one person dying, I learned where South Georgia was. After that, I read South by Shackleton himself. Retelling in detail what this vast and distant continent was for him. And I was hooked.

Growing up in the North, I have an understanding of cold and snow and ice. I know how to make an igloo, a quinze, a snow trench. I know how to stay reasonably warm in -30oC with the wind whipping the heat away from your body. I have skied on a glacier. I have slept over night in the snow. I have experienced a whiteout. But I have never experienced Antarctica. I know deep down it is different. I know that the experiences I have had will be vastly different from any I could have in Antarctica, but they must count for something. They must have some relation to what one encounters and the other end of the world. In Antarctica.

Shackleton's ship in 1915

Antarctica was always white to me. It was blowing snow across a vast, flat white surface. Even the mountains I pictured were white, no rock, just snow. There were beaches of limited black rocks, but everything else was white. I got these images from reading about Shackeltons’ Endurance expedition. The old photographs of black and white taken by Hurley showed nothing but white on white with wisps of gray thrown in for shadows. Sure there were little people all in black, most of which I later learned were drawn in by Hurley to produce a sense of scale. But it didn’t really matter; Antarctica was this vast, blank continent, filled with the lonely stories of Shackleton, Scott, and Amundsen. I wanted to see it for myself, to experience this desolation, this emptiness, this hollow country of snow.

After our trip to Britain, Antarctica didn’t quite disappear, but it certainly dropped from the centre of my mind. I adopted a strong fondness for penguins and learned as much as I could about them. I read different stories in the news about Antarctic science. But it was all very far away. It felt almost on a different planet. I loved the Yukon, the North, Canada, and I worked hard at learning about my home. About the plants that grew there, the birds and animals that lived there, and the different histories that made it the place it is today. But it’s interesting being raised in a country I know is not my cultures’, in a land that is nothing like the places my grandparents’ or even my parents’ told of in their stories, in a place that is filled already with the stories of other peoples’ traditions and ways of life.

My father was always aware that we were settlers, new comers, immigrants, and even though I was 6 when we arrived and I grew up there, I have this feeling of not quite belonging. I want to go back, I want to raise children there, and make my family there, but I know and always will know that I have a very different connection to the land than do the Athabaskan, the Tlingit, the Gwitch’in. I value and love the spaces and places I have come to know, Egg Island, the 30 Mile River, Magic Pony hill, Lake Laberge, but these are different values and connections than those of the First Nations who have been there for generations. And this is probably the biggest reason I came back to Antarctica in my mind. The idea of tabula rasa that Antarctica epitomized grabbed my mind and drew me to it. As a second generation Canadian and first generation Yukoner, I was acutely aware of my not quite belonging. I longed to feel that deep connection that I imagined the Ta’an Hwitch’an felt for the places I loved so much, I wanted to belong to some place. I imagined that Antarctica might hold that key. Now I’m not so sure that it actually holds the key to my feeling a sense of deep connection to the place, but perhaps it is instead showing me how to belong in the Yukon. I will have to wait and see.


  1. Erin, it's good to see you are getting back to your blog. It's always interesting and insightful. Love, Mom

  2. Nice reflections on settling in, connecting to and fitting into place. Good to hear your words too. Mennos have always been disconnected to place, chased around too many times to belong to a place, now, I think we're just restless. Or Broady might suggest we're just perennial farmer wanderers. What ever. I suspect as a culture, possible as a species, there are many ways that we make places home. Belonging to place however is the reciprocal relationship you mentioned in your note.
    Love, Dad