Welcome to Maoist Orange Cake. Each week one of our Divas posts a thoughtful (but not necessarily serious) essay on whatever calls forth her Voice or strikes her Fancy. We invite you to join us wherever the discussion leads.
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"I would also like to add that ‘Maoist Orange Cake is possibly the best name for a blog ever. Just my twopence." -- The Sixth Carnival of Radical Feminists, 1 October 2007

The Twelfth Carnival of Radical Feminists is up at The Burning Times blog and mentions one of our posts, Helen 'Wheels' Keller, for recommendation. Orangeists spreading our zest!

Friday, September 7, 2007


(Painting of Robert E. Peary and Donald B. MacMillan, copyright by Bowdoin University)

In the middle 1930s, my mother was a small child spending summers in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Donald MacMillan, the arctic explorer, was in town. His ship, the Bowdoin, had been launched in the Boothbay area. My grandmother sent my mother to the front of the crowd to get his autograph, which she did. It's been lost since then.

My mother's strongest memory of the event was that Captain MacMillan *took her pencil* and didn't give it back! My grandmother consoled her by saying that her pencil had gone to the North Pole with him. It's probably not true, but it's a great story.

Recently my brother-in-law (a Bowdoin University alumnus) and my sister took my mom to spend a week in Maine with them. They visited the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum at Bowdoin. Among other things, MacMillan was the first person to photograph musk oxen! She told the staff about the pencil thievery and they said they loved hearing memories anyone had of him. I told her she should have demanded a replacement pencil.

(Photo of Donald B. MacMillan, copyright by Bowdoin University)
Donald Baxter MacMillan, explorer, sailor, teacher, philanthropist, researcher, and lecturer, made over 30 expeditions to the Arctic in his 46-year career. He traveled over 300,000 miles charting new territory, training students, performing scientific research and studying and aiding the native people of Labrador and Greenland. He pioneered the use of radios, airplanes, and electricity in the Arctic, brought back films and thousands of photographs of Arctic scenes, and put together a dictionary of the Inuktikut language. He was considered by young and old "the most interesting of all speakers on Arctic or Antarctic subjects." Through it all, the crushing ice, fierce storms, endless traveling, and novice sailors, Donald MacMillan remained calm, patient, and disciplined, steadied by a life-long love of the sea and the knowledge that he was exactly where he wanted to be.

Donald MacMillan was born in Provincetown, Massachusetts, on November 10, 1874. His father, lost at sea when MacMillan was nine, instilled in the future explorer a lasting affinity for sailing. When his mother died three years later, MacMillan lived with the family of Captain Murdick McDonald in Provincetown for two years before going to live with his sister Letitia and her husband Winthrop C. Fogg in Freeport, Maine. He was a serious student at the high school there, and worked hard to earn the money to attend nearby Bowdoin College. In 1898 he graduated from Bowdoin with a degree in geology, and spent the next ten years teaching Latin, Physical Education, and Mathematics at schools in Maine and Massachusetts.

MacMillan established a summer camp for boys to teach seamanship and navigation. One summer, he saved the lives of nine people from wrecked boats in the course of two nights. This feat caught the attention of explorer Robert E. Peary and later prompted him to ask MacMillan to join his 1905 attempt to reach the North Pole. That year, MacMillan was unwilling to break his teaching commitment, but he was able to accompany Peary on his successful journey to the Pole in 1908. Unfortunately, MacMillan himself had to turn back at 84°29' on March 14 because of frozen heels. Peary reached the Pole 26 days later on April 6, 1909 with Matthew Henson, America's foremost black explorer.

The next few years MacMillan spent traveling in Labrador, carrying out ethnological studies among the Innu and Inuit. He organized and commanded his own expedition to northern Greenland, the Crocker Land Expedition, in 1913, but was stranded until 1917, when Robert A. Bartlett in command of the Neptune finally made it through the dangerous, icy waters. While he was waiting for rescue, MacMillan formulated the idea of a strong, easily maneuverable, ship specifically designed for Arctic travel to handle the dangers of the northern waters. When he returned to the United States, however, the country had entered World War I, and MacMillan joined the Navy. When the war ended, MacMillan thought again of the north, and began raising money to build a ship for further Arctic exploration and research. In 1921 the schooner Bowdoin was launched from the Hodgdon Brother's Shipyard in East Boothbay, Maine. That summer MacMillan sailed her to Baffin Island, where he and his crew over-wintered, the first of many expeditions that would make Bowdoin a familiar name in Arctic communities.

On March 18, 1935, MacMillan married Miriam Norton Look, the daughter of his long-time friends Jerome and Amy Look. Though MacMillan at first refused to let her accompany him north, Miriam soon convinced him of her willingness and ability to parcticipate in his Arctic travels. World War II saw MacMillan again in the Navy, serving in the Hydrographic Office in Washington, D.C. He transferred the Bowdoin to the Navy for the duration of the war, where she continued to work in Greenland waters.

(Photo of Miriam Norton Look, copyright by Bowdoin University)

Miriam Norton Look was born on June 13, 1905 to an engineer father, who came from a long line of sea captains, and a mother who was a classical musician. Miriam had a sister and brother, but she was the only one of the three who was fiercely passionate about the sea. She also had a great fascination with the Arctic, which undoubtedly came from the fact that it was the special interest of her childhood hero, explorer Donald MacMillan. Captain Dan, as he was called, was an old friend of her parents and would always visit when he returned from his voyages. Miriam loved to hear him recount his adventures and would later act them out with her friends--but only if she could play the hero Donald MacMillan.

As a teenager, Miriam had a 25-foot motor boat named the Sea Pup that was her pride and joy. Starting the engine caused her quite a bit of trouble, though, and in her book, Green Seas and White Ice, she fondly recalls the outbursts of "unladylike language" she directed at that engine. After she graduated from school, Miriam worked as a fundraiser for the public relations firm Tamblyn and Brown until she married Donald MacMillan on March 18, 1935.

From 1938 on, Miriam was an important member of the crew of the Bowdoin. She proved her ability to withstand the hardships of the Arctic and demonstrated her competence in organizing all the supplies needed for the expeditions and the MacMillan-Moravian School, founded by MacMillan in 1929. MacMillan had at first refused to let her go along, since no woman had ever done so. But with the support of the crew, she finally convinced him. Miriam was the first woman to steer a ship through heavy ice to within 660 miles of the North Pole. As a parcticipant in nine voyages on the Bowdoin, Miriam recorded traditional Inuit songs and took motion pictures of Inuit and ship life. These records, along with her books, preserve valuable observations about the Arctic. She also helped chart the northern waters and was an "amazing speaker" on MacMillan's lecture tours.

After MacMillan's death in 1970, Miriam devoted herself to arranging and cataloguing the thousands of photographs, slides, and artifacts that she and MacMillan brought back from the Arctic. She served as honorary curator of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, and worked to promote and raise money for the restoration of the schooner Bowdoin in the early 1980s. In 1980, in recognition of her contributions, Miriam MacMillan received the honorary degree of Sc.D. from Bowdoin College. In 1981, she was accepted into the Explorer's Club, one of only a few women accepted at that time.

(Photo of Matthew Henson after his return from the Pole, copyright by Bradley Robinson)

On April 6, 1909, Matthew Henson stood atop the world with Robert Peary as co-discoverer of the North Pole. When Henson descended from the frigid north his reception was distinctly cool, even in contrast to Peary's less than wholesale embrace by the American public. As public opinion eventually accumulated on Peary's behalf, acknowledgement of Henson was still not forthcoming. It took decades for Henson to achieve fame comparable to Peary's. While this popular recognition is largely posthumous, those who labored alongside Henson during his eighteen year Arctic career have never been short of praise for America's foremost black explorer.

As Donald MacMillan remembers in his foreword to Dark Companion, Bradley Robinson's biography of Henson, "Peary knew Matt Henson's real worth [he] was of more real value to our Commander than Bartlett, Marvin, Borup, Goodsell and myself all put together. Matthew Henson went to the Pole with Peary because he was a better man than any one of us." This was an opinion shared by the Inuit, who respected Henson for his immersion in their culture. Of Peary's crew, only Henson was fluent in Inuktitut, and could drive a sledge with native prowess. Matthew Henson was survived by an only son, Anauakaq, whose mother was an Inuit woman named Akatingwah.


Jana C.H. said...

I haven't read the whole article yet, but I can't resist commenting on the quotation. (Who is it by?) I really liked it at first, but about the third time, my pedant brain, nourished on W.S. Gilbert, ground to a halt.

"Where hot springs blow."

Hot springs don't blow. Geysers blow. Hot springs flow. A substitution of either one would have fixed matters, without harming scansion or rhyme.

Another case of a poem needing one last re-write!

Jana C.H.
Saith JcH: It's called light verse because all the heavy work is done by the poet.

Maggie Jochild said...

Jana, I'm not sure who wrote the quote (Little Gator said it was from The Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin), but maybe they were using "blow" in the Bart Simpson commentary sense -- you know, "How can something suck and blow at the same time?"

Maggie Jochild said...

I was riveted by this news of the purloined pencil. Robert Falcon Scott, on his ill-fated and (some say) ill-planned expedition to the South Pole, has been castigated in various biographies and documentaries for attempting outlandish experiments (ponies pulling sledges? why not unicorns?) while simultaneously rejecting proven technologies from Inuit and other snow-dwelling cultures. In more than one passage, it is clear he felt "Englishmen" were racially superior to native people and therefore should not stoop to using baser methods of transport and adaptation.

Hence, on the return from the pole, he and all members of his party died in a blizzard, Scott apparently being the last to go on 29 March 1912. They were discovered six months later by a search party which included Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who appears to have lovers with one of the dead expeditioners, Lieutenant Henry "Birdie" Bowers. (A side note here: Don't you think it likely that when you name a son Apsley Cherry-Garrard and call him "Cherry" that you might be predisposing him to both masculinist dare-devil behavior and a predeliction for the love that dare not speak its name?)

Scott's journal provides the account of the last days of the doomed party, and at the end, lying freezing in his sleeping bag, his handwriting suffered greatly. Most accounts say the last sentences are a scrawl, and are very hard to read. The Wikipedia entry reports it as:
"Had we lived I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale...We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker of course and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more. For God's sake, look after our people."

But -- here's where it gets interesting. Scott was known for eschewing practical approaches for those which demonstrated the "loftier" ideals of English civilization. He undoubtedly carried fountain pens and Indian ink on his expedition. Yet the average high-plateau temperature of the trek, according to Cherry's log, was -10° Fahrenheit [-23° Celsius], which would cause even solvent-based inks to freeze or become viscous beyond use.

Further, Scott's chief rival, Roald Amundsen, had garnered most of his experience in the Artic, so Scott, hoping to make a name for himself in the Antarctic, would have deliberately avoided anything which invited comparison to Artic exploration methods -- and it was well-known that Peary, et al, had employed pencils for their log-keeping. So, what was Scott using to keep his journal?

A small cache of personal belongings and letters was removed from Scott's body before the tent was heaped with snow and marked with a cairn (since lost). One entry in the Explorers Club archives mentions, among the diaries and cutlery, a "small rosewood box containing pen-knife and shavings". This conjures the image of a pencil or pencils, kept in a box with the means of sharpening it, does it not?

And -- despite his disdain for the Artic, Scott and his wife Kathleen were known to associate with explorers from the other pole. Unfounded rumors place Kathleen Scott checking into and out of Brighton hotels with Miriam Look MacMillan during 1911, sometimes under assumed names. Why would these women have hidden their trysts with one another? Would a memento from MacMillan's trip to the Pole have passed from Miriam to Kathleen, and from there on to Scott, perhaps a secret gift for him to use on his own endeavor?

I suggest that the real meaning of Scott's last entry is that his pencil, the self-same stolen pencil that D.B. MacMillan took with him to the North Pole, had at last run out of usable length. But it being the only object to have accompanied explores reaching both poles, it would have enormous symbolic value. Therefore, I believe the last line from Scott undoubtedly was meant to read "For God's sake, look after our pencil."

Josiah said...

The verse is indeed from "Immigrant Song" by Led Zeppelin; the Viking Kittens' version can be seen here.

I'm afraid that my knowledge of Arctic and Antarctic explorers is limited to the cameo appearances of Admiral Peary and Matthew Henson in Ragtime, and a TV movie about Ernest Shackleton I saw a few years ago (starring Kenneth Branagh as Shackleton). That, and the following exchange from Red Dwarf about Lawrence Oates:

Kryten: Human history is resplendent with examples of such sacrifice. Remember Captain Oates: "I'm going out for a walk, I may be some time."
Rimmer: Yes, but the thing is about Captain Oates... the thing you have to remember about Captain Oates... Captain Oates... Captain Oates was a prat! If that had been me, I would have stayed in the tent and whacked Scott over the head with a frozen husky, and then eaten him.
Lister: You would do, wouldn't you?
Rimmer: History, Lister, is written by the winners. How do we know that Oates went out for this legendary walk? From the only surviving document: Scott's diary. And he's hardly likely to have written down "February 1st, bludgeoned Oates to death while he slept, then scoffed him along with the last packet of instant mash". How's that gonna look when he gets rescued, eh? No, much better to say, "Oates made the supreme sacrifice", while you're dabbing up his gravy with the last piece of crusty bread.

Maggie Jochild said...

Josiah, I HAVE to see that Red Dwarf episode! I'm in hysterics over here.

When I first read that line by Captain Oates (in an essay by Annie Dillard), I wept uncontrollably. Years later, I found out it was possibly invented, and experienced the same sort of internal crisis I did when a powerful Tejana poet let me know that Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie had NOT died for my freedom at the Alamo. (Thanks for changing my life, Maria.)

little gator said...

Josiah=Thanks for the link, which I was too lazy to lookup.Interesting lyrics there-they bring peace and trust by ending the war through killing the opposition. remind you of anyone?

But kittens *are* my overlords.

to the collertors of cat quotes:

archy's friend mehitable:

"wotthehell did i do to deserve all these kittens?"

Maggie-I guess you hadn't heard that Oates really left the tent to hunt for graphite to write notes begging for help. They planned to wrap the graphite in splinters of wood from their sleds.

Of course Scott, meanyhead that he was, told him not to come back without it. The legendary Antarctic graphite mines were a myth of course, but they didn't know that then.

Maggie Jochild said...

"The legendary Antarctic graphite mines" -- those are a myth, TOO?!!!

Oh, it burnssss, it burnssss....

Didja notice the leader of the Viking Kittens was a ginger cat?

little gator said...

Don't try to pretend maggie-I know how much research you've done on polar exploration. Even 5th grader's homework paper would include the fakery of the graphite mines.

And how could I *not*notcie a ginger Viking kitten?

little gator said...

Do not doubt the gator's knowledge of song lyrics.

Josiah said...

Little Gator, I wouldn't look to Led Zeppelin for political meaning — or anything other than good tunes, frankly.

Maggie, that Red Dwarf bit is from the episode "White Hole", which is from the fourth season. It's funny, but nothing can beat the episode "Polymorph" from the third season, which contains the scene in which Rimmer's anger has been sucked out of him by a hideous space beastie, turning him into... well, a liberal. As the crew are trying to decide how to deal with the beastie in question, this is his contribution:

Rimmer: Erm, I think we're losing sight of the real issue here, which is 'What are we gonna call ourselves?' Erm, and I think it comes down to a choice between 'The League Against Salivating Monsters' or my own personal preference, which is 'The Committee for the Liberation and Integration of Terrifying Organisms and their Rehabilitation Into Society'. Erm, one drawback with that - the abbreviation is 'CLITORIS'.

Best. Scene. Ever.

little gator said...

Don't worry JOsiah, I look for meaning everywhere. Just cause I find it doesn't mean it exists.

Maggie Jochild said...

I saw the X-Files episode where Mulder's eyes filled with liquid graphite, but I thought that was just them pulling the leg of conspiracy theorists.

Now I don't know what to believe.

Here's a Youtube video raising even more questions about Mulder and Scully in Antarctica.

And -- I'm sending in my due to join CLITORIS.

shadocat said...

Josiah; I just watched that "Viking Kittens" video on a decent computer; gawd, that is pee-your-pants funny! Again! Again!

Josiah said...

Indeed, the Viking Kittens rule.

Maggie Jochild said...

Oh, my. Speaking of Viking "Kittens": I just read an article about the exhumation of a Viking queen:

"Archaeologists exhumed the body of a Viking queen on Monday, hoping to solve a riddle about whether a woman buried with her 1,200 years ago was a servant killed to be a companion into the afterlife.

"As a less gruesome alternative, the two women in the grass-covered Oseberg mound in south Norway might be a royal mother and daughter who died of the same disease and were buried together in 834."

The article goes on as if this are the only possible reasons why two women would have been buried together.

Reminds me of hearing Alix Dobkin explain how she came to write "View From Gay Head" -- she wanted to come out to her father, but her mother begged her not to because it would "kill him". Alix got intrigued by the notion of Lesbian as a word that could kill, and wrote a chorus that repeated Lesbian 32 times. Eventually, however, she came out and her parents did the classic "it's as if you never told us" routine. We're always sex objects to them until it arises that maybe we're being sexual with each other (FUBU) and suddenly sex disappears from the picture.

kat said...

I read that, too, and thought it was awfully odd.....

ooh, I saw a cool bumper sticker the other day. It read: "I'll be post-feminist in the post-patriarchy"

innit neat?

little gator said...

test: will my icon show up?