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Penguins and Adventure

Almost by definition, penguins mean adventure. The penguin of our imagination is associated with distant seas, frozen temperatures, and, above all, ice. That is a formula for adventure. Adventure is how we express the urge to be wild. It’s a call to borderlands and edges. It’s the call of the wildernesses that surrounds our lives and stalks our dreams, of the space between our comfort zone and the contact zone.

Penguins and Antarctica imply each other, as if they could not exist independently. Antarctica itself is the last great continent for exploration and discovery; it was the twentieth century’s landscape of adventure. It’s the only continent to be imagined before it was discovered. The ancient Greeks believed that a great continent had to exist in the south to counterbalance the continents in the northern hemisphere. For Dante, the lowest circle of Hell is a frozen empty place—Antarctica.

In fact, we think of it as a kind of negative place, a no-place. It was the only continent uninhabited by humans. No humans, no land mammals, no trees, virtually no plants, no heat. A nowhere of the imagination. It is the great global other—the “anti” continent: “Anti-arctic.”

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