Take Only Photographs…

8 12 2008


“Psst, wanna buy a souvenir?”      (Chinstrap penguins, Antarctic)


“Leave only footprints, take only photographs” is an oft-quoted sentiment stressing the importance of leaving the environment precisely as you found it. However, in the Antarctic, it is actually the law.


Under international treaty, unless you have a scientific permit, it is illegal to take home any souvenirs from the Antarctic. That means anything: whether a rock, feather, shell, vial of sand or historic artifact. If you visit one of the international research stations, you are often able to purchase postcards, badges or patches from the scientists…but that’s the limit of souvenir hunting at the bottom of the world. Then again, you’re probably not venturing across the wild Southern Ocean expecting to find a Louis Vuitton warehouse outlet!


Now, I’m not the sort of person who has a bathroom full of shells from all over the world but I do like the occasional something to serve as a reminder of my travels in addition to my photographs, memories and credit cards bills. The Antarctic really isn’t the place to indulge in a little retail therapy but then again, the experience itself is so rewarding that souvenirs aren’t particularly necessary.


But I did have a great compulsion to bring something tangible home from the Antarctic. Perhaps because it is the end of the world. Perhaps because it is a place that stole my heart as deeply as tales of its explorers had long-stolen my imagination. Or perhaps simply because I realistically know that I will likely never return. Regardless of what drove my compulsion, I stood on a volcanic black sand beach and gazed longingly down at my feet. Much like a land-locked Ancient Mariner, there was sand sand everywhere but not a bit to touch.


I would be lying to say that I wasn’t tempted to bend down, feign adjusting my boots, and surreptiously snare a handful of terra-australis-incognita-firma for my pocket. But either I really do care for the environment, am extremely obedient or just frightened of being locked in an Antarctic jail with drunken-and-disorderly penguins and pick-pocketing krill…I chose not to indulge my desires and instead returned to my ship empty-handed and empty-pocketed.


Back at home I unpacked my bag and began to store away my winter gear. As I pulled out my boots, something fell onto the floor. I reached down and there were several miniscule, black stones. I picked them up and inspected them in the palm of my hand. Tiny little fragments of a distant land that had been wedged in the treads of my boot. I touched them gently and reverentially before placing them on a shelf.


Although unnoticed by everyone else, those little specks will forever be treasured…until the Antarctic police come knocking on my door and drag me off to penguin penitentiary.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan




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