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The Nature of the Imagination:
An Interview w/ Elizabeth Arnold

Elizabeth Arnold
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Arnold.

Listen to Elizabeth's "90 Degrees North" on our The Nature of the Imagination Page.

After over 15 years as a reporter on environment and politics, Elizabeth Arnold travels easily between the buttoned-up world of Capitol Hill and some of the wildest corners of the earth. This time Arnold went somewhere that no one travels to easily—the North Pole.

What were you thinking, before you went up to the North Pole?

Well, I had a lot of time to reflect on why I was doing it. I read some old journals of people who never made it to the North Pole, people who died trying to get here, and it made me think, Why? It's not like it's Antarctica, there's no land, there's no compound, there's no flag... there's really nothing there. It's not until you get to the pole and you see that there's nothing remarkable about it, that it's just ice, moving ice... Then you think, Oh! This really isn't about standing at this spot, it's about getting here.

And how long were you up there?

Boy, total, I think 7 or 8 days... but the days are confusing... It's light all the time, and the Russians are on Russian time and the Norwegians are on Norwegian time, because it's the point where all time zones converge so it can be any time you want it to be. It's bizarre.

Were you ever scared?

Yeah, yeah. You know, up there there's young ice and there's old ice and you try to stay on the old ice but sometimes you take a wrong step and these cracks appear, this spider web of cracks, and it's kind of like a bad horror movie. And walking on shifting ice, that's scary. It's kind of like being on a moving sidewalk except you don't have any control over which direction it's going.

Was there anything that you missed?

Yeah, I didn't realize until I got back home and saw kids around, and women, that I had been in a place where the very few people were all older men. The first kid I saw I wanted to run up to him and give him a big hug. So, yeah, I missed people, which I think is strange because I'm not really a people person.

And how does it feel to be home?

You know, every minute that you're up at the North Pole is a challenge. And now that I'm back, I'll go to a dinner party and people say “How was the North Pole?” and I'll tell them... But I'm still figuring it out, still kind of amazed that I was there and I didn't get hurt and I'm back... I know that it sounds hokey, but it's an inner journey, it really is.

As a radio journalist, Elizabeth Arnold says, she faced an unexpected problem at the North Pole: it was really, really quiet. So quiet, in fact, that she started hearing a strange high-pitched buzzing sound. The buzzing never showed up on tape—it was all, she later learned, in her head.

Listen to Elizabeth's "90 Degrees North" on our The Nature of the Imagination Page.

Production: Atlantic Public Media. Curated by Jay Allison and Emily Botein.
Funding: Supported by The Nature Conservancy and Visa.

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