SOUTH LIGHT: A Journey to the Last Continent by Michael Parfit

SOUTH LIGHT: A Journey to the Last Continent

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A travel essay chronicling Parfit's (The Boys Behind the Bombs, Last Stand at Rosebud Creek) time in Antarctica, possibly the last frontier of exploration left on earth. The current essay previously appeared as a cover story, in a slightly different version, in Smithsonian Magazine. There have been many books written about Antarctica. Some look into issues of politics, law, science, or history; others are firsthand experiences in exploration. But this is probably the first book about that frigid, forbidding place by a professional writer who is bent simply on observing and reporting his perceptions. Parfit's trip, undertaken in conjunction with the National Science Foundation, lasted some six months. The author describes the special breed of scientists and military personnel who trudge through this difficult terrain for pure science's sake--as one says: ""If you have the desire for knowledge. . .go out and explore. . .you will sledge nearly alone, but those with whom you sledge will not be shopkeepers.""There is beautiful writing here, hints of a fine essayist in the making. Penguins, ""the ludicrous sentries of Antarctica,"" stood on ""flat thin floes that looked like trapezoids cut from poster card."" Snow petrels, prehistoric-like giant birds, flying nearly invisibly over the ice, ""seemed born in that instant, the spirit of the broken ice."" Icebergs, seeming to shift position as the sun hit them, moved ""abruptly closer as they shone, like soloists stepping forward out of the crowd to sing their blue silence."" A lone cloud was ""a long scarf flying across the sun."" The Dry Valleys were ""Antarctica with the skin peeled back.""If Parfit is to travel the distance from ""hints of a fine essayist"" to master craftsman, he must temper a tendency to get too caught up in technical jargon without sufficient explanation. But all in all, Parfit blends C.P. Snow's two cultures--the scientific and the literary--in describing this wondrous, bleak place, where, unlike anywhere else, the ""pioneers were not followed by the scientists--the pioneers were the scientists."" To most of us who will never get there, South Light comes in a close second to experience.

Pub Date: Jan. 3rd, 1985
Publisher: Macmillan