Nansen’s polar ‘fairy tale’

On this date in 1894, Fritdtjof Nansen, icebound on the Fram while trying to reach the North Pole, was congratulating himself on his good fortune…

Tuesday, November 13th. Thermometer -38° C. (-36.4° Fahr.). The ice is packing in several quarters during the day, and the roar is pretty loud, now that the ice has become colder. It can be heard from afar—a strange roar, which would sound uncanny to any one who did not know what it was.

A delightful snow-shoe run in the light of the full moon. Is life a vale of tears? Is it such a deplorable fate to dash off like the wind, with all the dogs skipping around one, over the boundless expanse of ice, through a night like this, in the fresh, crackling frost, while the snow-shoes glide over the smooth surface, so that you scarcely know you are touching the earth, and the stars hang high in the blue vault above? This is more, indeed, than one has any right to expect of life; it is a fairy tale from another world, from a life to come.

And then to return home to one’s cosy study-cabin, kindle the stove, light the lamp, fill a pipe, stretch one’s self on the sofa, and send dreams out into the world with the curling clouds of smoke—is that a dire infliction? Thus I catch myself sitting staring at the fire for hours together, dreaming myself away—a useful way of employing the time. But at least it makes it slip unnoticed by, until the dreams are swept away in an ice-blast of reality, and I sit here in the midst of desolation, and nervously set to work again.

From Farthest North by Fritdtjof Nansen

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