Does Anyone Read Lake Hazen?

Describes a Canadian expedition to northern Ellesmere Island 1957-58 as part of the International Geophysical Year.

p. 9, on baggage limitations: We had put together an extensive library, from Greely’s Three Years of Arctic Service to novelists like P.G. Wodehouse and Angela Thirkell. Or, in precise figures, including two typewriters and our clothing, 318 kilos among the four of us.

p. 41 pictures the author’s library shelves at the Lake Hazen base.

p. 72, re baking bread: Eventually, as with most of our problems at Lake Hazen, we found a book and followed its instructions.

p. 74: One item that had nearly been forgotten in our supplies was a cook book. Two did get to Lake Hazen almost by accident, but only one of them was of much practical use to us. This was the paperback Pocket Cook Book…. The other cook book that we possessed was a going-away present to Dingle; it had been published in England in 1915 and was designed for what later television audiences would instantly recognize as an Upstairs and Downstairs social setting.

p. 86: For much of the winter, however, Dingle and I spent long hours translating texts from French and German. Translation is an occupation that was almost ideal for Lake Hazen, requiring a minimum of raw materials and plenty of time. Dingle’s best foreign language was German, and he was tackling Das Klima der Vorzeit(The Climate of the Past) by Martin Schwarzbach. I was better at French and was therefore at work on Les Méthodes de la Morphologie (Methods in Geomorphology) by Pierre Birot. Climate, however, was my specialism, as geomorphology was Dingle’s, so we each became scientific adviser on the other’s translation. Apart from the mental challenge, we had a real incentive to improve our language ability, because McGill required Ph.D. candidates to demonstrate their competence in two additional languages.

p. 87-8: When these activities palled, there was no shortage of books to read. Apart from the DRB’s [Defense Research Board] erotica, which we tended to keep for night shifts, we had plenty of more edifying works. After Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy, for example, I turned for light relief to Gone with the Wind. In my first year as a student at London I had been required to study Book IV of the Aeneid, because at that time London required more in the way of Latin from its Arts Faculty students than either Oxford or Cambridge. I was interested to know how the story ended, though I was not prepared to tackle the original to find out, so the C. Day Lewis translation of Virgil also went to Lake Hazen. Dingle seized on my two-volume abridgment of Frazer’s The Golden Bough, and I intended to read it after him. One day, however, he remarked, in the manner of someone spoiling the end of an Agatha Christie mystery, ‘It’s mistletoe,’ and I could thereafter never bring myself to embark on Frazer’s long exploration of folklore. Jane Austen’s six novels were there, of course, and most of Dorothy L. Sayers and Angela Thirkell. If this sounds, escapist, I can only admit that the gentler English satirists have always had a special appeal for me. P. G. Wodehouse and Bernard Shaw were more welcome at Lake Hazen than Dean Swift.

It might be argued that practically everything we read was escapist in terms of our arctic situation. There was, however, a certain amount of polar literature in our library. The Arctic Institute of North America lent us a two-volume set of Greely’s Three Years of Arctic Service, but we used it for occasional reference rather than as a useful guide to our situation. The White Desert, John Giaever’s book on the Norwegian-British-Swedish expedition to the Antarctic in the late 1940s, had been taken along, because someone had suggested that it was more relevant to our group than accounts of better-known expeditions. We could see some similarities, although we hoped that we would not need to repeat at Lake Hazen the operation to remove an eye of one of the N-B-S expedition members. We are also glad to be sent the newly-published biography of Shackleton by James and Margaret Fisher. Shackleton, surely, is an explorer’s explorer. But on any particular day at Lake Hazen, the author most likely to be read by any one of us was Gerald Durrell. His accounts of animal collecting in the tropics were as far removed from our reality as Jane Austen’s heroines, but both his Bafut beagles and her Bath assemblies did much to keep us cheerful.

Many of the books that I had brought were ones that I had been meaning to read for a long time…. [Cites Lorna Doone’s passage about Arctic Life, suggesting that Blackmore had read accounts of the Franklin Search a decade before he wrote the novel.]

p. 95-6: Among the polar books we had with us was The Home of the Blizzard, the aptly-titled account of Douglas Mawson’s Australian Antarctic Expedition in 1911-1914…. Mawson’s book can be confidently recommended to anyone who needs assurance that other people also have problems.

p. 132: During the winter, however, I had read Dingle’s copy of the Penguin History of the United States, and so I was now able to register an unhesitating affinity for Lincoln.