Degrees: on Sunday we reached our furthest south. My screenshot chart records us at 64 degrees, 12.518 minutes. Beyond us ice stretches for thousands of kilometres, to 90 south and as far again beyond.
Degrees of longitude and latitude locate us with precision, pin us to the planet. Long before GPS, when navigation was a function of estimate and prayer, ancient mathematicians defined the degrees to measure the azimuths and zeniths of stars. Longitude is arbitrary; only contingent history settled the zero on Greenwich. Latitude is as real as gravity, desire lines circumnavigating between equator and pole.
From mast-height the earth is flat (though the horizon is suspiciously curved), the degrees of location invisible. In contradiction, the degrees of status, markers in navigating relationships with companions and communities, are unwritten but precisely marked and patrolled. We all operate within our degree, our place within the given group. Our arbitrary longitude may be age, or golf-club membership or the apparent immutabilities of nationality. Latitude is cleaner, the respect we give to crew members who worked and climbed throughout the Drake Passage storm.
Death, too, is part fact and part narrative. Plundered carcasses of penguin chicks and skeletons litter the coastlines of Antarctica, very dead. Skuas pick them clean and snowy sheathbills scuttle amongst the remains flaunting their lives at the leopard seals cruising amongst the ice floes.
The borders become ever more blurred and contested. Does she need a machine to breathe? Can she swallow? Can he decide for himself when the pain has lasted long enough? Would you force a dog to live like this? Daily questions in the no-mans-land at the frontiers of technology and political will. Being alive is a short step from the alternative, a matter only of degree.