I spent a brisk Sunday afternoon sitting out on the porch smoking a big stinky cigar and reading an essay about the early twentieth-century arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Steffanson.
He wrote a book in 1921 called “The Friendly Arctic,” in which he recounted the delights of living and exploring in the Far North. He traveled 20,000 miles by dogsled, discovered the world’s last major landmasses – a series of islands in the Canadian archipelago – and set a world record for longest continued Polar service – five and a half years.
What set his book apart was its tone: Steffanson really enjoyed, rather than merely endured, his life in what most of us would consider a completely miserable place.
I quote from the essay: “His favorite temperature was -40 degrees. Temperatures below -50 were manageable, but not quite so bully, since they required you to breathe through your mouth.” He continued, “Your nose is less likely to freeze when there is cold air merely outside of it instead of both inside and out.”
At this point, I feel I need to clarify something: His concern was not that his nose would ‘freeze,’ like, be really cold, but that it would freeze – as in, freeze and fall off, like an icicle on a car bumper.
Those of us living in the sub-tropical Deep South may get a little blue when the temperature drops and the days get shorter. We are inclined to think that people living in arctic conditions would be catatonic with depression.
On the contrary, Steffanson said, “An eskimo laughs as much in a month as the average white man does in a year.” Let us hope they are breathing through the nose when doing so.
He had much to say about the joys of living like a native – “Why would anyone wish to wear wool when nothing feels as good against the skin – not even silk – as the skin of a young caribou?”
And my very favorite was this – “Why live in a house, when an igloo, lit with a single candle, resembles a hemisphere of diamonds?”
I don’t particularly want to travel to the Arctic. I prefer corduroy to caribou skin. But I have to think that a night in a candle-lit igloo, sparkling like a diamond hemisphere, would be pretty great.
We humans are more adaptable than we think. We can endure, and even find joy, in difficult circumstances. There is beauty and mystery in every corner of our world. When we light our candles, the world sparkles.
“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men” (John 1:4, New International Version).
David Pannell describes himself as “a recovering farmer and the reluctant pastor of Common Ground Christian Church in Wren, Mississippi.” Contact him at email@example.com.