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IN THE SUMMER 2021 ISSUE, Pulitzer Prize finalist Elizabeth Rush embarks on an expedition to Antarctica, where she confronts motherhood in an age of melt. Read the full story, “First Passage,” excerpted from her forthcoming book, The Mother of All Things (Milkweed Editions, 2023), and enjoy extra video, sounds, and field notes from her travels below.
“Pregnant women are not allowed to sail south. My stomach tightens. My husband and I had hoped to start trying soon. But I tell myself that this rule makes sense; no one wants to have morning sickness and throw up on a glacier.”
“I ask the captain how much the icebreaker weighs, and he answers: 10,752,000 pounds. It’s nearly the length of a football field, a distance most humans can cross in a minute. I squint through the smudged window, sip my second cup of coffee, and admit I know nothing about whatever it is I’ve gotten myself into.”
“The more I learn, the more I want to stand alongside this calving glacier, want to watch freshly formed bergs drop down into the ocean like stones so that I might know in my body what my mind still struggles to grasp: Antarctica has the power to rewrite all the maps.”
“Opposite desires set this year in motion: to observe the last continent going to pieces and also to create life. I am in the middle of the first passage, crossing open water. Despite the distance that seemingly separates each of these impulses, both are frighteningly beyond my control. Calving or carrying—nothing I do will guarantee either coming to pass.”
Photo: James Kirkham
“How can we act when the things we depend upon have become undependable? She seems to be saying something I have long struggled to articulate: if it is I who wishes a child into this world then I must also wish this world onto that child.”