This Way ↔ That Way

This Way ↔ That Way

I just finished the final cut of my feature documentary, The Blinding Sea. Thanks to editor Guillaume Falardeau for all his hard work on this multi-year project, and to Marie Frenette for her support and insight. She thinks “outside the box”, so her comments have always been welcome, and she played a big role in the recording of original music, voice-overs and providing her own remarkable singing voice to the sound track. The next step for me is sound mastering.

I am struck how challenging life was for polar explorers a century and more ago, venturing out into the unknown, unsure if they would ever make it home again. Roald Amundsen and other explorers of his era got the thrill of risking everything, pushing themselves onward in fearful conditions, stretching themselves out over polar snowscapes, running into unknown ice sheets, glaciers, mountains ranges, avalanches and plateaus, turning science itself into a great adventure.

Amundsen and his polar contemporaries must surely have asked themselves, on a regular basis, “should we head this way, or should we head that way?” This gave decisions an either/or character, with death looming on one side, and life on the other. Being at the knife-edge certainly concentrates the mind! But given the repercussions, the consequences of any decision they took, it was not always possible to try something out, then backtrack if it did not work out.

“Should we head this way, or should we head that way?” became an existential, definitive question, because courses were charted in places where nobody had ever been before, everything depended on preparation, anticipating problems, timing and execution, and it could prove very complicated to change course when problems arose.

This is why I admire Amundsen for laying out depots along the way to the South Pole, using skis and dogs to get there, and gaining weight during his expedition even when he was skiing the energy equivalent of running three marathons per day.

And why I admire Ernest Shackleton for turning back just 97 geographical miles from the South Pole, since he had made the calculation that he and his crew had enough energy and food to return from that very point to the home base, but not enough to do the additional 194 miles (2 x 97) to the South Pole and back to that very point, before returning to the home base. Shackleton changed objectives, and as his granddaughter Alexandra Shackleton tells me in the film, he showed that his priorities were the health and welfare of his men. His decision enabled them to cheat death.

Robert Falcon Scott continued onto the South Pole although he had passed the point of no return and surely realized he and those men accompanying him would die.

Was polar exploration itself a blinding obsession, a mirage, a dream, an exhilarating alternate reality disrupting the dullness of their everyday lives?

Actually, we all face choices whether to head this way, or that way. If we had done this and this and such, then that would have happened. If we had done that and that and such, then this would have happened. In work settings, we sometimes use decision trees, to figure out what the next steps should be. Fortunately, the consequences we face are not generally as dramatic as they were for polar explorers a century and more ago!

The National Library of Norway has released this 1909 portrait of Roald Amundsen into the public domain

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