the continent of concrete abstraction


In this season of marking South Pole centennials, March is the last and cruelest month. On March 17, 1912, a starved, injured and frostbitten Lawrence “Titus” Oates famously crawled out through the tube door of Robert Falcon Scott’s tent to die deliberately in a blizzard. His last words, “I am just going outside and may be some time,” were transcribed two days later by a storm-bound Scott, making notes as his own death closed in, ice crystals already claiming his insensate right foot. Two months earlier, Scott, Oates, Edgar “Taff” Evans, Edward Wilson, and Henry “Birdie” Bowers had reached the South Pole, but instead of a blank nexus of latitude and longitude in an unmapped wilderness of ice, they found Roald Amundsen’s tent and Norwegian flag. The British team’s return was dismal, a trudging descent from the polar plateau into crippling starvation, dehydration, and nutritional deprivation. Having become a limping hindrance to his team’s already slow progress, Titus Oates hoped in his self-sacrifice to give the trio of Scott, Wilson, and Bowers (Taff Evans was already dead) a chance to reach their next depot of fuel and food. They would not, dying instead at month’s end as Oates had, prone and frozen solid under the snows of the blizzard-swept Ross Ice Shelf.

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