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...and they lived happily ever after. Smith & Lady: poets, artists, photographers & adventurers.
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climbing, killing, and cold


metaphoric mountain – foto by Smith

Coming back from the Annual Rainbow Gathering last year in Arizona, Lady was too tired to drive so I kept on trucking while she read out loud to keep me awake from Arlene Blum’s Breaking Trail; a Climbing Life about her adventures as a high altitude mountain climber and her tribulations for being a female in a male dominated sport. It was a delightful book, and I enjoyed Lady’s reading to me – her voice was soothing and the story inspiring.

Lady liked it too so she found a second book to read me a few chapters each week – A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. From the back cover summation I didn’t think I’d like it, but it’s an absolutely fascinating novel of love, lies, poison, sex, adultery, poverty, wealth, revenge, marriage and betrayal in rural Wisconsin in 1909. A remarkable book on all levels and a first novel as well.

And that led to the 50th anniversary edition of Alone by Admiral Richard E. Byrd, his account of staying five months alone at Advance Base 100 miles south of Little America in 1933 during the Antarctic winter and almost dying of carbon monoxide poisoning from the stove he used to keep from freezing in 82 degree below zero weather. The book is slow and methodical yet races like an action adventure film even though he spends five months in the same spot, doing the same things day after day and slowly dying painfully. Even though I knew he survived the ordeal because he wrote the book about his experience, I was still impatient to see what happened next and amazed how any man could live with such pain and cold.

I was also quite taken with how well he wrote for a man of action – his descriptions of the Southern Lights and the desolate landscape are perceptive and pure poetry. The man had soul.

He impressed me so much I Googled him and found some disturbing news. His initial fame was based on being the first to fly over the North Pole in 1926. But it turns out he only got about 80% of the way to the pole and turned back — possibly due to an oil leak — and lied about making it all the way, even erased conflicting data from his private journal (though not too well).

There’s ample evidence he was the first to fly over the South Pole, but if he hadn’t faked flying over the North Pole, he never would have gotten the chance to fly over the South. His whole career was based on a lie that brought him world fame and all his succeeding opportunities.

To be fair, he performed admirably on all the rest of his adventures.

And to be even fairer, who among us has not weakened and failed and lied at some point. I certainly am not perfect, unless I’m perfectly imperfect. And I have not gone on to do such daring deeds as he.

But his lie has put a speck of tarnish in my brain and a man who was a hero to me an hour ago now is just another man manipulating reality to his best advantage. Makes me wonder what he fudged in his excellent book.

Lies are Kryptonite to my Superman brain, and yet I’ve told and lived so many lies of my own I guess I’m going to have to hang up my tights and cape and get a day job as a mere human.


blow and cold and snow – foto by Smith

6 Responses to “climbing, killing, and cold”

  1. chris/ runewarrior says:

    Interesting blog.. Thanks Steve. Has me reflecting..

    A few books I will add to my list I think. I used to spend many a night reading out loud with Ryan. And early in my marriage to Dick we used to share books together. Something I remember with fondness. Read things I would never had read otherwise but enjoyed it a lot. I think reading aloud brings a story/book to life.

    The whole thing about lies is interesting too. Why do we feel so jaded by them even though as you’ve said we’ve all told them at one time in our lives or other? None of us being perfect. Is it because they poke wholes in our perception of reality? Or do we expect a perfection of others that we cannot come up with for ourselves? I’m not sure..

    But they have a way of taking the shine off things. But it seems people will lie about one thing and then not another. Humans are inconsistent at best. I think some of it comes in trying to cover over that we aren’t perfect. That even when we try we aren’t at our best.
    Anyway… for personal reasons the immediacy of it doesn’t escape me. But it’s made me think. Can you ever trust anyone.. ever?
    I suppose I’m unwilling to go to that place.. so prefer to trust even when I know people are imperfect and try not to be too disillusioned.

  2. chris/ runewarrior says:

    Sorry for the typos… above.

  3. jesus crisis says:

    Random thoughts on a good blog…
    I’ve been there on both sides – I’ve been a liar and yet I’ve been disillusioned by liars (Bible, anyone? Friends?) and even been cast into a years-long lion’s den by lies. Sometimes it’s hard to know truth, let alone write it – and yet, though I don’t want to justify lies, I think some lies are better (or at least less bad) than others. Lies that protect are better than lies that destroy – and yet lies meant to protect can still destroy and lies meant to destroy can sometimes unwittingly lead to good things. So what am I saying? I don’t have a clue. The truest thing I can say is it’s all on some level true and it’s all on some level a lie. All we can do is try, as much as humanly possible, to be true. Maybe Byrd’s southern trek redeems him for his northern lie. Or is there no redemption? I guess it depends on who you ask – and when. And isn’t all language on some level a lie? The word “table,” no matter what language you say it in, is still not a real table. And yet we use it to represent one.

  4. smith says:

    i think the thing that bothers me the most is he stole the mantle of firt flyer over the north pole from Roald Amundsen, Umberto Nobile, Oscar Wisting, and others – he stole their future. the more i think about this, the more disgusted i become.

  5. chris/ runewarrior says:

    Stealing someone’s future matters…

    It’s funny what comes to mind for me is the Egyptian method of weighing ones heart/soul on a scale against a feather when a person dies. I suppose we have to do something of the same in our minds when it comes to un-truth. And each person will weigh it slightly differently based on their perspective and how it affects them, their life experience, etc…
    Can someone make amends though? Like you recounted… Byrd stole the future of those other men who did accomplish a great feat. And they did not reap the rewards that would have come with that . You wonder how many lives were changed by just that one lie?

    So I suppose it depends on scope and scale but how do you even judge that because you can’t see the effects till perhaps years later. It makes you stop and think.

  6. smith says:

    i can’t judge for others but when i think of him stealing another’s future fame, my respect for what he accomplished afterwards is diminished. i no longer respect him. and that is a loss for me in my heart.

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