On the Ice: An Intimate Portrait of Life at McMurdo Station, Antarctica
Book: On the Ice: An Intimate Portrait of Life at McMurdo Station, Antarctica , by Gretchen Legler, ISBN10: 157131282X, ISBN13: 9781571312822, Milkweed Editions, November 2005, Paperback
Travelogue, cultural meditation, and love story, On the Ice casts a panoramic view on one of the oddest communities in one of the most extreme places on earth. Sent to Antarctica as an observer by the National Science Foundation, Gretchen Legler arrives at McMurdo Station in midwinter, a time of -70 degree temperatures and months of near-total darkness. A lesbian struggling with a tumultuous past, she hopes to escape her own demons and present an intimate view of a place few will ever visit. What she discovers is a community of people stripped of any excess by the necessities of existence in a harsh land, where revered scientists are referred to as “beakers”; where cherished belongings are left without regret in a communal lost-and-found; and where women are rare but lesbians in high proportion. Forced to confront her own fears, Legler experiences firsthand how landscape and community allow a life to reset.
Legler (All the Powerful Invisible Things) received a grant to spend several months documenting the life of those at the Antarctic research facilities at McMurdo Station, "an old military installation, remote oil company drilling site, frontier mining camp, and college campus blended into one." Her story emerges in a series of loosely episodic essays, a function perhaps of "Antarctic time," a Zen-like mode in which human agendas submit to the bleak, unrelenting landscape. Legler is a constant observer, whether she's sailing aboard an ice-ramming research ship, visiting the huts of great explorers like Scott and Shackleton, or enjoying a getaway with friends at an isolated camping station. Details scattered about subtly steer readers toward Ruth, a mechanic who works at McMurdo, and her and Legler's romance comes to dominate the final sections. Legler's examination of her feelings after Ruth's earlier departure supplements a thoughtful study of the intense egalitarian bonds and compartmentalized sexual relationships that form among all Antarcticans during their time in isolation. Readers hoping for adventure at the bottom of the world may be disappointed, but the emotional honesty of Legler's reporting significantly increases our understanding of life on the last great frontier. (Nov. 29) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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