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attempt to capture the first Arctic white for met with on our journey.
We are unwilling to lose the opportunity of deroting ouruelves altgether to a closer survey of the island, as the wind to the eastward makes it a difficult matter to approach the land on that side; to the southward the water is calm, and a black sandy beach invites us, but the sandy beach is “steep to,” and is bounded with rough, weather-beaten rocks on either hand; it is not a place for anchorage ; we sound and verify our opinion, and beat up without further delay. Broken water extends a long way out from the land, but we see no ice in the offing. As we sailed along with a fair wind we suddenly fell in with the true commencement of the west ice.
Extending far beyond the range of vision, and as we scud along, the fog as it lifts reveals vast plains beyond, still encumbered with these quaint-looking masses of floating, toiling ice. Here is a plain of some twenty square yards burthened with little mounds of ice covered with folds of frozen snow; here is a patch of a hundred square yards more heavily weighted with little hummocks, as the lumps of ice scattered over its surface are called by the Arctic voyagers. These are treacherous places to venture upon, as the action of the air and the wasting influence of the salt
ASPECT OF THE ICY SEA.
sea, are constantly at work upon the frozen masses, and they become undermined and eaten away along the edges as they drift southwards towards the warmer water flowing north from the Gulf Stream, which seems to find a limit to its force about this latitude. Spreading out like a fan, it interdigitates with colder surface currents which flow ice-laden from the northeast. The drift also has its effect on the floating ice, driving it with sudden force, and grinding each block against its immediate neighbour; then the brittle floor soon gets crushed and shattered in every direction. The newly-exposed fracture glints in the sunlight with all the iridescence of an opal—delicate greens and pure blues reflect the light in brilliant prismatic hues. The sparkling water beneath throws off these refracted colours, and the pure snow above serves as a foil to the diamond-like coruscations. Every moment some new charm is added to the splendour of the prospect, and were it not from a sense of danger it is almost impossible to shake off, the spectator might spend many an hour in unsatisfied contemplation of a scene so novel and suggestive. Here is a block of ice eaten away by the rapid thawing process of the higher temperature in which it floats, until it assumes the form of the knarled stem and riven roots of some old forest tree overturned by a storm; there is the finely
curved neck of a haughty swan carved in the purest crystal. Often whilst we gaze the neatly poised floating object we are watching will plunge head foremost into the waves, and what was but recently its submerged portion will float above the sea, the centre of gravity having become altered by the melting of the ice of which it is composed. Then the attention is roused by a report as of the firing of the heaviest ordnance, and the awful din is caused by the sudden rending of some vast frozen drift. The lurid light known by the sailors as the ice blink played over all.
“ Quod simul ac primum sub divo splendor Aquai
Ponitur : extemplo, cælo stellante, serena
Lucret. lib. iv. 215.
This novel episode was a fresh illustration of the altered condition of the aspect of nature viewed under the Arctic circle. It is quite impossible for any one who has not seen the ice in these regions to form any adequate idea of its wonderful appearance. The surge of the heavy sea is breaking upon the outer edge of the huge floating masses of ice, and the distant prospect is laden with heavy looking blocks, interspersed with flatter snow, covering all the fields on which little
hummocks of ice have formed. The first impression naturally is that the barrier is impassable for a ship, and this depressing effect is hardly relieved by the wonderfully beautiful appearance of the obstacle. Here the opposition is seemingly constructed out of a multitude of gigantic gems glittering in all the splendour of the diamond, emerald, and sapphire. The great waves of the sea strike against the glistening diadem, and as the spray dashes down its surface, the sun's rays catch up all the prismatic hues of the frozen facets, and so reflect them with redoubled lustre. Nor is the mind contented with the contemplation of these vast riches of rubies and opals. There are fantastic forms floating over the surrounding sea which have an interest of their own nearly equal to the lustre of the ice itselfwe mean the air and water-worn portions of the ice, which, in their dissolution, grow into the resemblance of quaint forms, but the constant wasting of these objects is very striking ; their destruction is rapid, owing to their evaporation from the causes mentioned ; and not only is the sense of sight affected by the prospect, the ear is tortured by the thundering sound of the disrupted masses as they tilt against each other and are rent asunder. All this time we are sailing towards the densest part through a fringe of broken ice in a heaving sea. The
older hands on board now offer their opinion as to what is best to be done. We hope to find streams of water leading to the westward, and we make the attempt. There was a long neck of ice about two miles broad, the sea breaking on the outer edge, the swell lifting the inner pieces and threatening to grind the whole mass into powder. Into this commotion, the
schooner is forced with all speed, charging the most likely place to make an entrance for us, as the surge rises and falls with awful fury. Thump she drives against the barrier, the bells ring out loudly on board, the glasses rattle, and the schooner shivers from stem to stern. The nerves of the uninitiated quiver the while, but we force our way, and, once inside, we take the ice