‘And still my compass shows the way’
When I was growing up I had a deep fascination with tales of adventure and exploration. It probably started with the Tintin books which I still cherish to this very day, following Tintin around the world on his exploits. Gradually I moved on to the real life exploits of mountain climbers like Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, and explorers like Robert F. Scott, Roald Amundsen and Ernest Shackleton. The epic scale of their achievements and failures were enthralling. Every bit of danger was palpable, every achievement was exhilarating to read. At no point did I have a desire to risk life and limb the way they all had attempting to be ‘the first’ to accomplish something but the adventures were sure exciting to read.
It is something I never really stopped enjoying, and over the years I have read numerous accounts of mountaineering expeditions, polar explorations, and other tales of adventure. On a few occasions I have been to various exhibits recounting some of those tales. The best of these by far was several years ago at the Museum Of Natural History which had an exhibition about Sir Ernest Shackleton and his failed attempt at the first complete crossing of Antarctica. It contained the exquisite photography of expedition photographer Frank Hurley together with various personal and historical artifacts. I was held spellbound by the hand written diary and log entries by several of the crew, examples of the clothing the men wore throughout their ordeal, and the equipment they used. Most awe-inspiring of all was the actual lifeboat James Caird, which Shackleton and 5 of his crew sailed 800 miles in with minimal shelter and only basic navigation in storm tossed South Atlantic seas in a desperate attempt at rescue. Contained within those planks of wood was quite a story. Hardship, adversity, challenges and elation. I stood there transfixed, gazing at every inch of it, imagining what it was really like to have been there. If you are unfamiliar with the story, I urge you to read the above link for a summary. Being in the same room with such a tangible object to the story as the James Caird had was special for me and something I will never forget.
Eight years ago today, something even more special happened to me. On January 13, 2008, I married my beautiful wife Jennifer. Music played a big part in our wedding of course, and we mutually chose songs that were special for us. A few years later I came across a song that has an almost coincidental element to our own wedding day. In a roundabout sort of way, it even ties in with those tales of adventure and exploration. First have a listen to the song-
Ray Cooper, aka Chopper, spent years playing bass and cello with one of my favorite groups, the Oysterband, whom I have written about in an earlier blog. A few years ago he left the group and has since released a few solo albums and now resides in Sweden. On his first solo album, the sublimely titled ‘Tales Of Love, War & Death By Hanging are a few traditional songs from Scotland, a cover of a well known song, and some self-written ones. With Ray’s connection with Sweden, most of his own songs have a heavy Scandinavian influence to them based around his own distinct cello playing. From the moment I heard his song ‘My Compass Points To North’ I felt a deep connection to it. Ray was inspired in part by contemporary explorer and adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who has a long list of accomplishments over the years. The song also reminded me of the illustrious tales written by other explorers about their own exploits.
The lyrics of the song perfectly describe the harshness of those exploits. Blinded by snow and frostbitten in a punishing and foreboding landscape, pushing through the extremes of weather and terrain-
“I cross the snow and ice again, leaving day and night behind,
No horizon, land or sky. And everywhere you look is white
That’s when you know you are alone, seven miles of ice below
And no tracks to take you home”
The one thing that drives the narrator on is that push to stay on course, to keep going at all odds on the quest, be it a mountain yet to be climbed, a trek to the North Pole, or an ocean being crossed. The refrain of “I’m holding to the course, my compass points to north’ hammers that point in. It is a way of keeping what is important in front of you at all times and maintaining a steady direction.
Which makes me think of my marriage to Jennifer. Continuing on no matter what adversity there is. Times of sadness and fear. Times of sickness and worry. And laughter. Lots of laughter. Remember what I said above about the story the James Caird ‘told’ me as I stood in front of it years ago? It feels like a similar to our own story in many ways. The coincidence I mentioned that ‘ My Compass Points To North’ has to our wedding day is because of the gift Jennifer presented me with on that day eight years ago. It is a heavy brass replica of a European Miner’s Compass (seen in the photo at the top) and it has proudly sat on my nightstand ever since. In the wooden case that contains the compass, Jennifer inscribed these words on a brass plate-
Robert, you are my “true north”. With love, Jennifer, January 13, 2008.
Whenever I play the song that compass and that inscription always come to mind. It is the most meaningful gift anyone has ever given me. Today on our anniversary I wanted to give you my own gift, and I hope the words contained in this blog are as meaningful as that gift you gave me.
My compass points to north because of the amazing person you are.
My compass points to north because you are my best friend
My compass points to north because you are the most beautiful person in the world to me
My compass points to north because you make me smile and laugh
My compass points to north because I am so proud of you and your continued accomplishments
My compass points to north because I love the life we have made for each other and know it will continue to grow for years to come.
For all these reasons and so many more, My compass is pointing to you everyday Jennifer. And the direction will always be North.
My Compass Points To North-Written By Ray Cooper
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