The Beating Heart of the Planet: An Autobiography of Antarctica in Eight Hundred Words
- The Void
Figure 1: The Void, Windless Bight, Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica, 2018
In the beginning, I was the void at the bottom of your maps. My ancient forests grew cold and disappeared. Snow fell year after year, eon after eon, forming a vast landscape of ice. You evolved. I waited. Primal life formed ghostly mats at the bottom of my ice-covered lakes. Fragments of heavenly bodies settled on my Dry Valleys, waiting to reveal the secrets of the beginning of time. I am an icebound annals of the birth and life of the planet. Year after year, I waxed and waned with the rising and setting of my sun. And I waited.
2. The Ice
Figure 2: The Ice, Scott Base, Ross Island, Antarctica, 2018
Ice was the first you knew of me when you arrived in your boats. The early ones, Yaghan and Māori, left no record of our meeting. Then the pale ones, with guns and harpoons looking for Terra Australis Incognita – what your ancients called “Antarktica”. An unknown land beneath unknown stars. A mythical land of great riches. My ice dwarfed you and your vessels. Some left, vowing never to return. But the mystery of what lay beyond my ice barrier and the lure of the wealth in my ocean kept drawing you to me. I crushed your boats. Still, you came.
3. The Exploitation
Figure 3: The Exploitation, Grytviken, South Georgia, 2018
You discovered abundant life on, around and under my ice. You came with bigger boats to harvest my children and boil them down to light your lamps. The seals disappeared from my coasts and the great whales from my ocean. You built factories to process the death. Used me to fuel the industry that now fuels my demise. Long before you set foot on my shores, you depleted my waters. Now, you come for my fish. For the krill that feeds my children, great and small. What will feed them when you have taken it all? What will feed you?
4. The Exploration
Figure 4: The Exploration, Seafarers’ Cemetery, Grytviken, South Georgia, 2018
Hominem quaerentem. Questioning man. My solitude ended when your adventurers came in search of my heart. The place where Earth’s axis emerges from my ice. Unlike those before, these stayed; took only what they needed to survive. They built shelters of my stones. I endeavoured to drive them away with wind, cold and darkness. I built massive ice walls and ripped deep crevasses. I crushed their ships. Still they stayed, with their dogs, skis, sleds and ponies. Some achieved their goal and stood on my heart. Others perished. Now they lie silent, as my ice carries them to the sea.
5. A Preserve for Peace and Science
Figure 5: Peace and Science, Windless Bight, Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica, 2018
Wars came and went. New adventurers arrived, with new missions. Some sought to claim me, my oceans and my riches as their own. Others understand that I have no master, that to unlock the secrets I hold frozen in my ice, they must join forces. These new ones drill into my core, tap into my lakes, explore under my ice. For science, not war. They have been here many years in your time. Just a blink in mine. They race for answers. Your world is changing and I, in my remote void at the bottom of your maps, change too.
6. The Breath
Figure 6: I am the Breath, Windless Bight, Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica, 2018
My winds are the planet’s breath of life. The katabatics roll down from my soaring peaks toward the sea with mighty force. They open cracks in the ice to let in light and life. They drive weather around the planet. My children respect my gales – they huddle together to protect their young, they migrate to escape my force. The cyclones are my shelter. Only the most determined stand up to them and answer their challenge. My winds can drive you mad, or freeze your flesh in an instant. They are my voice. They call you to me, and warn you away.
7. The Heartbeat
Figure 7: I am the Heartbeat, Orne Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula, 2019
Deep under my ice shelves, the ocean churns. Ice forms, melts, reforms. Cold water sinks, swirls, and drives ocean currents. Every ocean current, everywhere on earth, starts and ends with me. I am the beating heart of the planet. Without me, the oceans die. Without the oceans, everything dies. My depths, like my ice, hide a myriad of mysteries – and dangers. The species you harvest, and species you have yet to imagine. My children grow slowly in the frigid waters; more slowly than you consume them. My ocean grows warmer. My sea ice is getting thinner. Will my heartbeat weaken?
8. The Choice
Figure 8: The Choice, Salisbury Plain, South Georgia, 2018
In the beginning, I was the void at the bottom of your maps. Now, I am the key to your future. Your industries and activities warm the planet, your plastic reaches my shores. My children struggle to survive as my climate warms and my ice retreats. If they perish, you perish. When we first met, I endangered you. Now, you endanger me. You still have a choice. But not for long. I am the canary in the coal mine, and I am growing weaker. We have only just met. I still have many secrets to tell you. Don’t turn away.
Listen to Caroline Ziemke-Dickens read ‘The Beating Heart of the Planet: An Autobiography of Antartica in Eight Hundred Words’.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Caroline Ziemke-Dickens is a writer who is obsessed with penguins. She emigrated to New Zealand in 2013 with her husband, Simon. Before that, she lived and worked in Northern Virginia and grew up in Athens, Georgia. Today, she and Simon live on a tiny farm in the Belmont Hills with their dogs, pigs, chickens, alpacas and a bunny.