CULLING THE HERD…
I am a student of the so called Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration because I hate cold weather and admire those who endure conditions I am too cowardly to challenge. The great white waste of the southern polar region is the most inhospitable place on earth. It is a high altitude desert scoured by rasping wind and, except for the coast, bereft of life. It is the coldest place on Earth where −93.2 °C (−135.8 °F) was recorded at the Soviet Vostok Station. Just a few of the titles of books about exploring the continent tell its grim story: Life in the Freezer; The Home of the Blizzard; Just Tell Them I Survived, Racing with Death, The Heart of the Great Alone, and The Worst Journey in the World.
In the early decades of the 20th Century a group of brave and hardy men, tougher than woodpecker lips, moved from the outer edges toward the Holy Grail of Antarctic exploration, the South Pole. The likes of Sir James Clark Ross, Nathaniel Palmer, Adrien de Gerlache, Robert Falcon Scott, Roald Amundsen, Ernest Shackleton, Douglas Mawson, and Richard Evelyn Byrd wrote, in the words of Scott, “…a tale…of hardihood, endurance, and courage.” You can’t help but admire these men, warts and all.
I recently had an experience reminiscent of an incident which occurred during Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition, more formally known as the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Unlike Amundsen and Scott, Shackleton was unsuccessful on all three of the Antarctic expeditions but has become a bit of a leadership cult figure because of his people centered style of management.
Just a few days after the start of the Great War Endurance weighed anchor in the harbor of Plymouth, England and shaped course for the Antarctic. The expedition was a disaster as the Endurance became trapped in Weddell Sea ice. Shackleton and his ice bound crew drifted with the ice pack for eight months until the ice won, crushing the Endurance’s stout wooden hull.
As the Endurance sank, expedition photographer Frank Hurley repeatedly dove into the icy waters to rescue his glass-plate negatives. After all of that danger he was eventually forced to abandon all but about 150 of the glass plates when the expedition took to boats when the ice floe they inhabited broke up. Space was at a premium on the life boats and so Hurley sat with Shackleton atop a couple of provision crates viewing each negative, keeping the best and smashing those not thought worthy of saving to avoid second guessing.
Like the Endurance life boats space has become an issue at The Casa Rocketto. The basement has become the repository of the detritus of my two daughters’ various apartment moves as they transitioned from college to the real world. In addition we have also renovated the old homestead resulting in a surplus of appliances, furniture, and assorted boxes of bits and pieces accompanied by a dearth of space. After going through the kid’s stuff I have had to perform triage on the many publications I have pack ratted away for research over many years.
I elected to cull my collection of Precision Shooting as opposed to The American Rifleman because the Rifleman is simply richer in the historical resources I require whereas Precision Shooting was a much more technical publication. Perched on my shooting stool I read the table of contents of each issue of Precision Shooting selecting only those issues which contained articles by me and my shooting favorite fellow shooting historians, German Salazar, George Stephens, and Paul Nordquist.
The castoffs filled several very large recycle bins and were very heavy and I did not look forward to hauling them away. The next day, over breakfast before our usual Friday morning shooting session, I mentioned my plans to cart them off to the transfer station to my young shooting acolytes Ryan McKee and Nash Neubauer.
Nash and Ryan were horror stricken that I would even think of disposing of my Precision Shooting collection. Their immediate and fierce protest peppered me with a spray of toast crumbs, bits of scrambled egg, and corned beef hash along with comments comparing my planned dumping to a Nazi biblioclasm and Anthony Comstock’s New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. An allusion to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 was tossed in for good measure.
I was surprised at their reaction. It was not their passionate pleas to save the magazines that left me wide eyed. Rather I was taken aback by the fact that they, being an engineering and criminal justice major as well as high power shooters and the modern public school system being what it is, had accumulated the depth of knowledge to include such erudite historical and literary references.
Nearly in a panic they pleaded with me that they might have them. I demurred, saying that we were many miles from my home; it would take them far out of their way to retrieve them at a great expense of gasoline and time, while it was just a short trip to the dump for me. My reasoning did not impress them. They escorted me home and hauled the bins to their vehicles, vowing to share and share alike.
While they made reference to Bradbury and Fahrenheit 451 I could not help think of Mark Twain and Tom Sawyer. I had accomplished my purpose of clearing shelf space just as Tom had managed to get Aunt Polly’s fence white washed. I had, as Mark Twain wrote, “…discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it – namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.”
My goal had met with pleasant unintended consequences. I had gained storage space, didn’t have to risk a hernia or strained back moving the heavy bins, landfill room was conserved, and the magazines are now safe in the hands of those who will value them.