Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Snow White

Snow was falling quite heavily as I left my home in northwestern Baltimore County this morning on my commute to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. for a day of research on behalf of my employer. Pulling on my most dependable pair of trousers, vintage "travel slacks" I bought at JCPenney when I worked for the retailer back in the 1970s, I hunted around my closet for a suitable top. A gleaming winter-white sweater by venerable skiwear maker Meister, with a sparkly rhinestone snowflake emblazoned across the chest and an elaborate half zipper created with rhinestones, caught my eye.

I layered a white ribbed long-sleeved Tee under the sweater for extra warmth and selected a comfortable pair of short booties by Cami from Spiegel.com that I’ve owned forever. I completed my wintry look with a silver bracelet of Pandora charms, a gift from my dear friend, Trina, and her mother, Mary, and a pair of earrings made of fine silver wire twisted into marvelous patterns, a gift from my cousin Ruedi in Wyoming. Wearing a thick, knitted headband from Purgatory Ski Resort in Durango, Colorado, the site of wonderful annual getaways sponsored by my employer many years ago, and a fluffy, textural scarf in shades of charcoal, cream and smoke, I headed out into the wintry mix.

Peggy Clifton shows off an
award-winning coffee-table
book featuring the exquisite
photographs of antarctic explorers
Pat and Rosemarie Keough
Upon my arrival at the Library of Congress I was delighted to learn that my favorite librarian, Margaret Clifton, was herself sporting vintage threads as she prepared for a presentation she will be making tomorrow. Peggy and I have grown quite close in the years that I have been conducting research there, and so it is my honor to tell you a little about the talk she will be giving on Wednesday morning, February 20, in the West Dining Room of the Madison Building at the Library of Congress. A woman of keen intellect and diverse interests, Peggy is the author of several posts about astronomy on the LOC's Business and Science blog (see link below).  But tomorrow’s program will feature her passion for Antarctica and the explorers who sought to know and document its vast expanse of, well… snow, which happens to be the theme of today’s blog post.

Peggy's pea coat hails from her fave shop,
Nordstrom's, and was made in the USA of
fine Loro Piana wool from Italy.  Her scarf
was hand-knitted by her mother 25 years ago  
Next year, a pilgrimage of British scientists will seek to recreate the voyage undertaken by Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton in 1914 to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent.  Unfortunately, their ship, Endurance, became trapped in the heavy ice pack and was crushed and sunk. Under Shackleton’s steady leadership, and in conditions far more primitive than one can imagine, the group survived and even brought back with them a body of valuable scientific work. To highlight the Imperial Trans-Atlantic Centenary Expedition (ITACE) 2014 (http://south2014.com), Peggy invited members of next year’s expedition to pay a visit from the United Kingdom and give a lecture about their upcoming voyage. To her surprise and delight, the group accepted Peggy’s invitation. 
Me with Kari and her parents, Lyle and
Joyce, at the South Pole Inn in Ireland

The sign outside
Now, having spent the past few months combing the great library’s inventory for compositions that might complement tomorrow’s program, Peggy was excited today to show me several photographs, books and other works about Antarctica and its explorers. This, of course, brought to mind a wonderful stop I made with my best friend, Kari, and her parents last summer as we traveled through southern Ireland from Dingle Town to Killarney in County Kerry. Along the way, we took a break from our travels at a tiny pub with the unlikely name of "South Pole", so called to honor Irish explorer Tom Crean, who journeyed to the Antarctic in 1910, just a few years prior to Shackleton, and likewise found his ship wrecked in an ice floe at Elephant Island. With fortitude similar to Shackleton’s, Crean was somehow able to fashion a small boat from the wreckage and took off on an 800-mile voyage with no map to guide his way until he reached the Pacific eight months later. He organized a rescue party and made his way back to the stranded explorers. All were rescued and not a single life was lost. Crean eventually retired to County Kerry on disability due to snow blindness, permanent damage to his retinas from the brilliance of the sun’s reflection on all that Antarctic white. As Kari’s older brother, Kim, an intrepid mountain climber and extreme skier in his own right, had perished in a Canadian avalanche many years ago, her parents and I had a drink (or two) in his honor that day in Ireland.

An image of penguins from the acclaimed book Antarctica
by Pat and Rosemarie Keough
Tonight, Peggy has been invited to the British Embassy in Washington D.C. where she and the visiting members of next year’s ITACE 2014 expedition are to be honored at a reception. For more information about tomorrow’s program or to read Peggy's posts about the sun and stars, please click on this link (http://blogs.loc.gov/inside_adams/2013/02/fortitudine-vincimus/). And if you find yourself anywhere near the District of Columbia tomorrow morning, do try to attend Peggy’s presentation. It’s sure to be fascinating.

"Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all."
Shackleton, E. H. The heart of the Antarctic, v. 1. London, W. Heinemann, 1909

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