Per Freta Hactenus Negata: European discovery of Ellesmere

Loomings Illustration

Ellesmere, known by Inuit as Nunangata Ungata, “Land beyond the land of people,” and Umingmak Nuna, “Land of muskoxen” and probably by other names, had been visited by Greenland Norse for centuries before being “first” sighted by William Baffin aboard aptly named HMS Discovery in 1616. The English explorer and navigator had hoped to find a Northwest Passage but concluded one did not exist.

Capt. William Parry’s later, 1819 search for the Northwest Passage was perhaps the most successful British attempt—nobody died and he almost made it through, a feat which would not be accomplished until 1905 by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen aboard the sloop Gjøa. Parry’s two ships, HMS Griper and the distinctly named HMS Hecla, were forced to winter over, and to amuse themselves the officers produced a weekly newspaper called The North Georgia Gazette and Winter Chronicle that was subsequently published in England. Fast Paradise borrows their motto, Per Freta Hactenus Negata, which appears in the above banner with the Gazette’s fanciful escutcheon,and approximately translates, “To reach a place whose existence had been denied and to keep going.”

Nineteenth century Ellesmere was uninhabited except for Inuit hunting parties, but the existence of a Northwest Passage was well known when Sir John Franklin set out in 1845 to navigate it with two ships, prophetically named HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. There were no survivors of his expedition, but Sir Edward Inglefield aboard Lady Franklin’s private steamer Isabel was searching for the expedition’s remains in 1852 when he named Ellesmere in honor of Francis Egerton, 1st Earl of Ellesmere. Which seems to confirm the early 20th century Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson’s pronouncement that, “A land may be said to be discovered the first time a European, preferably an Englishman, sets foot on it.”

Well into the 20th century, European—and American—explorers continued to perish “discovering” all of Ellesmere, and by 1912, the Canadian poet Robert Service could properly call the North, “That land that measures each man at his worth.”

Terras Irradiant meets Terra Incognita: Novel Notes, November 2000

UVA Campus

Exploring the instinct for self-expression even before Qaya had a name:

The extreme urgency to talk to the future through her written, skincut record and through the tag-you’re-it or scavenger hunt quality of leaving a trail so the future, but not her contemporaries, can find her would mark her as the beginning of history. And in the tradition of Puritan diarists, the implied message is, “I matter and you can learn from my experience.” Which must further connote, “you matter, too.”

Exploring possibilities for two-way communication across generations:

First, you must want to do so. The “escapee” becomes the first who wants to communicate as an individual. This is not a cultural norm, myth or folk tale; not how to build a kayak, cure a cold or talk to the moon. It is: this is how I alone perceive and feel directed at other individuals in the future who thereby are presumed also to perceive and feel. But even if those future individuals don’t yet “perceive and feel,” they become more likely to do so because they learn about her. So, she becomes a participant in the future not by talking to like-minded people but by actually developing them. She has a future existence as a teacher, an elder!”

The professor and his students:

The professor would be a tenured academic; he has lots of time. Ironically, it’s the young people—students and trekkers—who don’t have time. They must figure it all out right now and without ‘divine’ intervention.

The professor knows so much more than the students while he’s on site it’s hard for them to grasp what he does not know. His shortcomings arise less from him than from their perceptions, even naivete, as students. They may have joined their favorite professor’s expedition for adventure and good grades, but their imperative as Young People turns out to be not fully united with being a student. Young People require a Rite of Passage. If their society doesn’t offer one, they will invent it for themselves