Capturing Antarctica’s Beauty and Resilience

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- My favorite books of 2018, both fiction and nonfiction, weren’t published this year, though they share a theme: Antarctica.
There are two types of travelers to the most remote region of the world, says the protagonist of Midge Raymond’s 2016 novel “My Last Continent”: “those who have run out of places to go, and those who have run out of places to hide.” I’m one of the former. After traveling to more than 70 countries over the years, I took an 11-day cruise to Antarctica in January with my soon-to-be husband. During the trip, I read several books that powerfully convey the southernmost continent’s lessons and allure.

The common thread is that these works are ultimately tales of resilience. In her 2008 “Ice Bound: A Doctor's Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole,” Jerri Nielsen, a physician, explained how her recovery from a harrowing divorce sent her to Antarctica, where she diagnosed herself with breast cancer and began treatment. The protagonist in “South Pole Station,” the 2017 novel by Ashley Shelby, goes south after her twin brother’s suicide, and takes on a conspiracy by climate-change deniers. In “My Last Continent,” Raymond’s main character finds the courage to go on after a devastating loss. In Maria Semple’s 2012 satirical novel “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” – which was made into a movie that will be released in March – the protagonist flees to Antarctica to cope with the loss of her identity as a renowned architect. Aplsley Cherry-Garrard’s 1922 “The Worst Journey in the World” is the account of the remarkable perseverance of the British explorer Sir Robert Falcon Scott and his team on the fatal 1910-1913 British Antarctica Expedition.

These books all capture the continent’s extraordinary beauty. Its glaciers and mountains made me feel tiny. The sea was littered with icebergs of a white so brilliant that it can only be described as fluorescent. The neon blue reflection of the parts of the bergs below the water seemed supernatural. Ice was constantly calving off glaciers, and icebergs and water were always shifting, so the same spot would never look the same twice. “Its overwhelming beauty touches one so deeply that it is like a wound,” Edwin Mickleburgh wrote in “Beyond the Frozen Sea: Visions of Antarctica,” published in 1988. “I cannot say it was beautiful; it was beyond all that,” the British travel writer Sara Wheeler wrote in her 1999 “Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica.”

According to National Geographic, the Antarctic peninsula has been warming a lot more rapidly than the rest of the Earth. These tales of hardship and renewal are deeply touching reminders of the need to ensure that the continent itself can remain resilient in the face of climate change so future travelers can also be wonderstruck by its beauty.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Kara Alaimo is an assistant professor of public relations at Hofstra University and author of “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication.” She previously served in the Obama administration.

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