Barry Lopez writes about ANSMET 1998-99 in Harper’s

Old USARP air photo of the Graves Nunataks icefield, looking NE.  Note the clouds creeping up from the Ross Ice Shelf to the left, a constant irritant in our attempts to return to the area.

Our field work takes place under conditions that can inspire your soul and test its limits.  Because this work touches us so deeply,  every individual experiences it differently, and quite a few of our veterans feel compelled to write about their ANSMET experiences. Even when you’re standing side-by-side on the ice, facing the wind, the feelings are unique to each of us.  It makes for inspiring and sometimes emotional writing.

Twice we’ve been fortunate enough to host professional authors of significant reknown.  More recently it was Chris Cokinos,  whose ANSMET experiences are beautifully and candidly chronicled in his 2009 book The Fallen Sky.  But Chris wasn’t the first- a decade earlier we hosted Barry Lopez,  whose book Polar Dreams is a key part of the canon for those drawn toward the ends of the Earth.

Barry joined ANSMET because he was interested, the time was right, and the support was there.  He joined us for our first systematic season at Graves Nunatak. It proved to be a challenging season with long delays getting into the field followed by marginal-to-bad weather.  In the end we got only one week of searching out of the 6 weeks planned.

Barry stayed in touch with us for a few years afterwards (longer, I think, with John). We were expectant,  of course, and hints of his ANSMET experiences showed up in some subsequent works. But no opus arrived and after a while we understood (properly)  that the desires of the reader are disconnected from the desires of the writer.   As someone without a strong compulsion to write,  I understand that some experiences can be harmed by efforts to force them into words.

Thus I was very pleasantly surprised when representatives from Harper’s Magazine contacted us in October for help adding context to an essay by Barry describing his ANSMET experience 20 years ago.  We (John Schutt, Nancy Chabot and myself) gave them images, fact-checking, and background.  It made me happy that the article was about Barry’s experiences in 1998, not about ANSMET or NASA or NSF or climate change or…..   we were going to feel what he felt. The same experience,  but experienced differently.

That’s all the preamble you’ll get from me.  Read it,  it’s very good.

Barry Lopez’ Polar Light

Note you get only one free read from Harper’s per month… use it wisely.  I’ve asked Harper’s if we can post a PDF, so check back if that’s important to you.


-Ralph from Cleveland, the land of Veiled Sunshine.