Independence Day 2012. Independence Fjord 1912. The mapping of northern Greenland.
I am reading 100-year-old travel reports by Danish polar explorers Knud Rasmussen and Peter Freuchen who visited Independence Fjord exactly 100 years ago to resolve a puzzles of Greenland’s geography: Is Peary Land an island or Greenland’s North? It is Greenland, but their detailed report has data I want: glaciers mapped, temperatures recorded, ice described, rocks sampled, musk ox killed. It is all part of an ongoing scientific journey of discovery and writing, but I am getting ahead of my Independence Day and Independence Fjord story:
The Greenland mapping and early science was done painstakingly via sled dog teams by hardy people and adventurous spirits who had to find and hunt game to avoid death by starvation. Rasmussen, Freuchen, and their Inuit companions Uvdloriaq and Inukitsoq set out over Greenland’s inland ice from Thule on April 19, 1912 with 54 dogs to return 5 months later with only 8 dogs.
This was the First Thule Expedition that was supported by the Thule Trading Post at North Star Bay that Rasmussen and Freuchen had privately established in the fall of 1909. Today it is the location of Thule Air Force Base. My father-in-law served here for a year as a young Airman in the 60ies. It is also where our Nares Strait science party will board the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Henry Larsen Aug.-1, 2012. I am thinking of Peter Freuchen and his Inuit wife Naravana, Knud Rasmussen, and Independence Fjord on this Independence Day.
Independence Fjord in north-east Greenland was named by Robert E. Peary on America’s birthday 120 years ago on July 4, 1892 when he was the first white person to get there. Prehistoric people of the Independence cultures left artifacts from 3000 years ago. Hunting was good then, too. The 120 year old photograph of Peary shows him standing atop Navy Cliff next to a cairn with two Star Spangled Banners fluttering in the wind. The view eastward is along the 120 mile (200 km) long and 19 miles (30 km) wide Independence Fjord that opens into the Greenland Sea.
Peter Freuchen of the Thule expedition recovered Peary’s note 100 years ago. He then made and left a copy, added his own note, and headed home to Thule, Greenland. Besides checking on Peary the two Danes were also looking for a lost Danish expedition led by Einar Mikkelsen, who in turn was looking to recover the bodies of two Danish explorers of Independence Fjord, Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen and Niels Peter Hoegen-Hagen who had died nearby in 1907. Almost all these explorers have mountains, glaciers, land, and capes named after them or their sponsors, only Independence Fjord is different.
Independence Fjord celebrates the birthday of a young nation, the idea of a painfully evolving democracy, work still in progress. Peary may have made many claims that were not always supported by the evidence he presented, such as claiming to have reached the North Pole. He was no scientist, but a manager driving hard to secure funds, a ruthless self promoter, and autocrat assigning native women to men of his liking. But in this one instance of naming one of Greenland’s grand fjords Independence Fjord, he did good. Recall that this was the time when unelected kings, queens, generals, and dictators were ruling over expanding colonial empires. It was a few years before World War I and its follow-up World War II that caused global devastation to usher in a new set of world powers. The idea of independence is symbolized both in Independence Fjord and Independence Day. Both celebrate the same thing: freedom. There will be fireworks tonight …
P.S.: Some maps