Polar Journals

Many polar explorers kept journals and wrote books about their experiences in the Arctic and Antarctica. Below are excerpts from books written by two polar explorers, Matthew Henson and Richard Byrd. Read them and complete the exercises that follow.


Matthew Henson

Commander Peary and I were alone (save for the four Esquimos), the same as we had been so often in the past years, and as we looked at each other we realized our position and we knew without speaking that the time had come for us to demonstrate that we were the men who, it had been ordained, should unlock the door which held the mystery of the Arctic.

It was about ten or ten-thirty a.m. on the 7th of April, 1909, that the Commander gave the order to build a snow-shield to protect him from the flying drift of the surface snow. I knew that he was about to take an observation and while we worked I was nervously apprehensive, for I felt that the end of our journey had come...

Photo used with permission from Matthew Henson Elementary School
Text from: A Black Explorer at the North Pole, a 1989 reprint of the 1912 edition

Matthew A. Henson in the Arctic
Matthew A. Henson


Richard E. Byrd

By May 17th, one month after the sun had sunk below the horizon, the noon twilight was dwindling to a mere chink in the darkness, lit by a cold reddish glow. Days when the wind brooded in the north or east, the Barrier became a vast stagnant shadow surmounted by swollen masses of clouds, one layer of darkness piled on top of the other. This was the polar night, the morbid countenance of the Ice Age. Nothing moved; nothing was visible. This was the soul of inertness. One could almost hear a distant creaking as if a great weight were settling.

U.S. Navy photograph
Text from: Alone, New York, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1938

Richard E. Byrd in Antacrtic hut
Richard E. Byrd

Discussion Questions

1. Describe the emotions both explorers are feeling. List words that help you identify their feelings.

2. What do you think the next entry in each journal may be?

3. What do you think these men had in common?

 

Activities

1. Imagine that you spent the winter alone in one of the polar regions. Write a journal entry describing what it was like. How would you feel if you were all by yourself on a cold, large continent. What would you do to keep yourself busy? What would you do for fun?

2. You have been trekking across Antarctica for many months. Write a letter to a family member describing the conditions and the things you have seen.

3. Write a newspaper headline announcing the arrival of Robert Peary or Roald Amundsen to the Poles. You may need to research each expedition to write your headline. Draw a picture to illustrate your headline.



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