A Door Unopened

A Door Unopened
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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Enduring the Endurance--Stop me if you've heard this one before...

The Huzby loves tales of frozen wastelands—the more frost-bitten, teeth-chattering, and blue-lipped—the better. You would think Mongolian, Siberian and Arctic stories,  appropriately frigid and bone-chilling, might hold top position on his glacial-o-meter. But, no. These locations are not nearly remote or isolated or desolate enough to satisfy. Only tales of the Antarctic suffice to scale to the top of the iceberg and scratch my sweetie’s incessant icicle itch.

Like the Huzby, penguins also finds tales of Antarctica irresistible.
Remember “The March of the Penguins”? Emperor penguins huddling en mass for months in slow rotation, one precious egg under each belly pouch, defying the brutality of the sunless winter. Oh, yeah. That was a good one. A documentary I gave him called “Antarctica” must have been merely OK, because we’ve only watched it once. But the story the Huzby holds in the frostiest, most shivery esteem is the story of Ernest Shackleton and his 28 man crew of adventurers. The team’s quest was to attain the geographical South Pole.

Meet the explorer, Ernest Shackleton.

These men with their pack of 69 sled dogs and one feline participant, a grey tabby named Mrs. Chippy, sailed the Endurance, a wooden ship built with polar bear hunting in mind, into the pack ice of Antarctica’s Weddell Sea. After becoming stranded and watching the Endurance go down, Shackleton and his men survived the ravages of relentless cold, months of near starvation, and a long, icy trek and open boat journey back to Elephant Island at which point Shackleton and five of his party rowed to South Georgia Island to get help and rescue the remaining crew nearly two years after setting sail. Sadly, the dogs and Mrs. Chippy were not so lucky. I’ll let you use your imagination to fill in the blanks. Or if you’re like me, you already know the story quite well.

Lucky for these dogs they didn't know how the story ended for them.

It’s a tale of supreme, unflinching commandership, of surviving against the vagaries and savagery of nature, of hanging in there when there seems to be no reason to. It’s a chronicle of teamwork.  It’s a history of overcoming what seemed to be, but were ultimately not, insurmountable obstacles. It is—as if the ship’s name had sealed their fate—a saga of tremendous and awe-inspiring ENDURANCE.
Alas, the Endurance; she was unable to endure. Not so for the crew, however.

Did they achieve their goal of making it to the South Pole? No.
Did they make it back to civilization without losing a single human life? Yes.

Apparently the Huzby had long been aware of this truly amazing story. It was news to me when I sat down to watch the Nova special, “Shackleton’s Voyage of Endurance,” with him some years back. Wow. Pretty unbelievable and miraculous, I had to concur.

We discussed it and agreed that I would never have survived such on ordeal. Having zero ability to deal with frigid temperatures (below 72o F, I need at least a light jacket), I’d have been shark bait or penguin fodder before I could sputter, "I should have packed a puffier parka." We also agreed that it’s possible the Huzby might have survived if he’d responded to the 1912 ad that read—

As mentioned, we’ve watched the Nova special. We’ve also watched a TV dramatization with Kenneth Branagh playing the role of Shackleton called “Shackleton”. The movie “South” also detailed the trials, tribulations and perturbations of the crew of the Endurance as documented by Frank Hurley, the crew’s photographer. The still and moving pictures are well preserved and depict the epic journey with eye-witness vividness. Yes indeed, we’ve watched that one too.

No doubt I should have been expecting that “The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition” narrated by Liam Neeson, would appear in our mailbox in a tidy Netflix envelope. But then you ask yourself how many times you need to endure the telling and retelling of the Endurance. If you’re me, the answer is three times is pretty much overkill. If you’re the Huzby, it’s not nearly enough.

About seven minutes into this fourth version I had to ask—“Haven’t we seen this before?”
“No.” my South Pole-obsessed spouse espoused. “We haven’t seen this one.”

I hate to break it to y’all out there but the story never changes. Damned if Mrs. Chippy and all those 73 dogs (including the four pups that were born on the trip) don’t die all over again in this version of the story. And once again, Shackleton’s party of 28 men are first stuck, then stranded, then lost, then hungry and of course throughout—they are consistently COLD because they’re in the freakin’ badlands of Antarctica. And yes indeed, those same 28 men, lost, freezing, starving and desperate, with Shackleton leading the way, make their way back to civilization. Hurray!!! And once again, they don’t make it to the South Pole but, son of a gun, if those poor suckers don’t all keep their ess together and and survive without losing one human life. Yes, indeed. You have heard this one before.

Most of the exploration party on Elephant Island. They were not exactly in a partying mood.

Here is the one thing I heard on this telling of the story that was news to me:
Apparently, when Winston Churchill was apprised of the fact that Shackleton was setting out to make it to the South Pole he was unimpressed. Why? Well, that would be because Norwegian, Roald Amundsen and his team, had successfully skied to the location two years earlier. Not only that, Shackleton’s prior colleague, Robert Falcon Scott, and his party also made it to the South Pole 35 days after Amundsen. Sadly, Scott and his cohorts all died on the return route. Churchill’s take on Shackleton’s late-to-the-party expedition was—Hey. Been there done that. Did you not get the memo?

Having nothing to do with the fact that the cigar-loving Winnie is a not too distant relative of mine, I have to say, I wholeheartedly agree.

I’m not planning to tell the Huzby but the way things are going I’m sure he’ll find out anyway: There’s still an IMAX version—“Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure” —we have yet to see. I’m not exactly sure how it has escaped his notice.

Do you think the enlarged account of the drama will turn out any differently? Nope. Neither do I. But it’ll probably have the added enhancement of making me motion sick while watching. I’ll wear my parka, gloves, ear muffs and bring a waterproof bag—just in case.

Ah. The things we endure for love.


  1. when are we going to the IMAX version? maybe that one will turn out differently and the dogs and cats will survive....

  2. Nice! Some people just cannot get enough of one thing. For my Huzby, it's sci fi. He is such a techno-geek who is overcome with enthusiasm for spaceships, explosions, alien monsters, and mad scientists who work to figure out how to conquer the enemy with a plan that starts in the science lab.

  3. To the Huzby: I agree. The better version is the one where the cat and dogs shoot all the men and start a polar cat/dog hybrid colony. These fierce, stalwart creatures are responsible for putting down the alien/predator hybrids that are migrating from Bouvetoya intent on taking over the planet. Cue foreboding music...

  4. To Kylene: Take that last comment, show it to YOUR huzby and see if he can run with it.