Polar exploration has wound up on my radar thanks to Melissa, who has a bit of an obsession with it. So, like the good wife I am, I tend to notice books with ice on the cover or titles that include words like ice and longest and search. If this is a subject that interests—or that might interest—you, I can recommend Andrew Cohen’s Lost Beneath the Ice.
This book recounts two searches: the HMS Investigator search in the early 1850s for the lost Franklin expedition and the present-day search for the remains of the Investigator. The text is brief—just thirty-eight pages—but well-written. The style is as crisp and transparent as one might imagine the the arctic skies the crew of the Investigator found themselves trapped under (though that analogy falls apart pretty quickly given the rigors of their voyage and the pleasure of leafing through this book).
The bi-temporal story in the text sets the scene for the real riches of the book: the collections and historic and contemporary images that take up the bulk of the pages. You can pour over detailed ship’s plans, 19th century photographs and paintings, and under- and above-water photos from the present-day expedition.
As I’d mentioned above, polar exploration is a favorite topic of Melissa’s both for reading and for her artwork. She’s found the open spaces of the arctic productive ground for conveying the smallness of our human selves against that vast landscape. (If you’d like to see some of her images and to read about her print making process, click through here to her piece titled, “Explorations.”)
That sense of our own smallness also comes across in Lost Beneath the Ice in the pictures of some of the artifacts recovered from the Investigator, particularly the single leather shoe that somehow survived more than a century under Canadian ice. Imagine the foot in the shoe, the man attached to the foot, the ship that man sailed on, the endless, yet insufficient, rations that man ate while his ship was trapped in the ice for nearly two years. Our endurance and our hubris are staggering.
Please note: I was lucky enough to receive an early electronic galley of Lost Beneath the Ice. If you want to read this book yourself—or give it to the polar-expedition-inspired artist in your life—you’ll need to wait until its official publication date, 10 December, 2013.