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Tom Crean

Bowers, ever-optimistic, ever-energetic, and the determined swing of his short and sturdy footsteps in the traces alongside.

The journey back to Hut Point and safety would be long one–six hundred fifty miles at least, a dreadfully extended haul on foot under any circumstances. Coupled with the outward march to this Godforsaken place, 1,300 miles for the round-trip give or take a few. It was not a record that brought much joy in the contemplation. Before long it would be exceeded by that of the Pole Party, who would also enjoy that other, dearer, record–that of having been the first men to stand on the South Pole of the Earth. Some were bound for glory, others for the muted praise that accrued to those who toiled in support, barely noticed though their labors might be very nearly the same.

Tom Crean, Sailor on Ice
INTRODUCTION
by David Hirzel

Now they were three. There were, perhaps, no three men lonelier in all the world. The remoteness of their advanced position was exceeded by only that of the five who were now on their way to the Pole. But, in their suddenly diminished company, they felt their isolation yet more acutely. It drew them together, men and officer, encircled them and seemed to ease the proper distinctions of rank and class. Leaning into the harness, they knew already how much they would miss the happy companionship of their tentmate Birdie Bowers, ever-optimistic, ever-energetic, and the determined swing of his short and sturdy footsteps in the traces alongside.

The journey back to Hut Point and safety would be long one–six hundred fifty miles at least, a dreadfully extended haul on foot under any circumstances. Coupled with the outward march to this Godforsaken place, 1,300 miles for the round-trip give or take a few. It was not a record that brought much joy in the contemplation. Before long it would be exceeded by that of the Pole Party, who would also enjoy that other, dearer, record–that of having been the first men to stand on the South Pole of the Earth. Some were bound for glory, others for the muted praise that accrued to those who toiled in support, barely noticed though their labors might be very nearly the same.

Tom Crean, Sailor on Ice
INTRODUCTION
by David Hirzel

Some men are born for the sea. They run away to it early in life, and it shapes their adolescence and young manhood, their view of themselves and the world, and everything that follows. Tom Crean was one such a man.

A sailor’s world is defined by the boundaries set by the rail of his ship. Beyond that rail, at an indeterminate distance, he sees but cannot reach the endless circle of the horizon dividing the blue water below from the blue sky above. It appears the same wherever in the world his ship may be, afloat on the heaving swells of any one of the seven seas. The sky and water may not always be blue—they may be gray, white with driving foam and fog, obscured by night, defined by stars, calm and flat as a mirror glass or risen in waves beaten by ceaseless gales. It is always so, changeless and ever changing, the same and never the same.

This is in part the allure of the sea, this placement of man against nature, overwhelmed by nature, defined by nature, and if he comes home to tell the tale, in some small measure triumphant against forces far greater than his limited power.

The call of the ice is not so different from the call of the sea. The horizon is much the same, the sky above as blue while the ice below has taken the place of water as far as the eye can see. The ice can assume many colors other than its anticipated white; descriptions of it are full of words like azure, lemon, topaz, aquamarine. But its apparent end is still a horizon always out of reach, its undulations and sudden motions as treacherous as a rogue wave to the unwary traveler. Some men are born with a love of this.

The sound of brash ice scraping along the side of the ship with a sound like broken glass shaken in a box is a lullaby to their ears, a familiar song they know long before the first time the hear it. The ever present knowledge that their ship might be gored by a floe and sink without a trace only serves to heighten their desire. “What the ice gets, the ice keeps.” Shackleton was referring to more than the doomed Endurance splintering under the irresistible pressure of sea-ice in motion.

Sir Ernest Shackleton had known the siren call of the hundreds of miles of the unbroken plain of the Barrier ice, the slow-motion rapids of the glacier, the bleak white desert of the plateau, the coldest place on earth. A host of other explorers had followed the call of the ice and come home with tales of wonder and suffering, as though the two experiences were somehow unalterably linked.

Tom Crean heard it too.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 15, 2009 4:26 pm

    I love this! When will your book about Tom Crean be available?

    Alice

  2. April 9, 2010 11:39 am

    Hello David,

    Thank you for sending us information about your upcoming book event. I hope to attend your event, Saturday, May 8. I look forward to learning about Tom Crean’s Antarctic adventures.

    I invite you to visit the Patrick J. Dowling Library here at the center, the first all-Irish library in the United States.

    Yours truly,

    Wendy King
    Librarian, Patrick J. Dowling Library
    Irish Cultural Centre of California
    http://www.irishcentersf.org

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