Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Excerpt #16 from Adrift on an Ice Pan by Sir Wilfred Grenfell

Excerpt #16 from Adrift on an Ice Pan by Wilfred Thomasen Grenfell

(N.B. It was in 1908 that Grenfell, a medical missionary in northern Newfoundland was traveling by dog team to treat a patient, became stranded on an ice pan and came close to perishing. The following excerpt is from Grenfell's account of this adventure.)


It was a perfect morning,--a cobalt sky, an ultramarine sea, a golden
sun, an almost wasteful extravagance of crimson over hills of purest
snow, which caught a reflected glow from rock and crag. Between me and
the hills lay miles of rough ice and long veins of thin black slob
that had formed during the night. For the foreground there was my
poor, gruesome pan, bobbing up and down on the edge of the open sea,
stained with blood, and littered with carcasses and d├ębris. It was
smaller than last night, and I noticed also that the new ice from the
water melted under the dogs' bodies had been formed at the expense of
its thickness. Five dogs, myself in colored football costume, and a
bloody dogskin cloak, with a gay flannel shirt on a pole of frozen
dogs' legs, completed the picture. The sun was almost hot by now, and
I was conscious of a surplus of heat in my skin coat. I began to look
longingly at one of my remaining dogs, for an appetite will rise even
on an ice-pan, and that made me think of fire. So once again I
inspected my matches. Alas! the heads were in paste, all but three or
four blue-top wax ones.

These I now laid out to dry, while I searched about on my snow-pan to
see if I could get a piece of transparent ice to make a burning-glass.
For I was pretty sure that with all the unravelled tow I had stuffed
into my leggings, and with the fat of my dogs, I could make smoke
enough to be seen if only I could get a light. I had found a piece
which I thought would do, and had gone back to wave my flag, which I
did every two minutes, when I suddenly thought I saw again the glitter
of an oar. It did not seem possible, however, for it must be
remembered it was not water which lay between me and the land, but
slob ice, which a mile or two inside me was very heavy. Even if people
had seen me, I did not think they could get through, though I knew
that the whole shore would then be trying. Moreover, there was no
smoke rising on the land to give me hope that I had been seen. There
had been no gun-flashes in the night, and I felt sure that, had any
one seen me, there would have been a bonfire on every hill to
encourage me to keep going.

So I gave it up, and went on with my work. But the next time I went
back to my flag, the glitter seemed very distinct, and though it kept
disappearing as it rose and fell on the surface, I kept my eyes
strained upon it, for my dark spectacles had been lost, and I was
partly snowblind.

To be continued.


The above excerpt is from Adrift on an Ice-Pan by Wilfred Thomason Grenfell. A true account of Grenfell's near death experience, the story was first published in 1909 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

The unabridged audio edition, narrated by Chris Brookes, Jay Roberts and Janis Spence, is available from Rattling Books.