I'm reading a book called The River of Doubt by Candice Millard, which is about the last great adventure of Teddy Roosevelt into the darkest depths of the Amazon. Let me tell you, for a privileged old white dude, Teddy was a serious bad ass. While many might hear a few horrific details of his journey and rename this blog "Explore AND Die," our 26th American president was definitely an "or" kind of individual.
As I read the account of his expedition, I couldn't help but feel a little worried about those of us here in 2017. We all have our hardships, losses, and confusion at the world we live in. We all suffer in some way at some time. But life here today is steeped in convenience and disconnection from things that are dirty, smelly, bloody, or decaying (i.e. Earth). We are well shielded from what's really going on out there, what's headed our way, and where our food really comes from.
We are further shrouded from the life that we might live by our online habits. Every time we search or navigate the internet, we are being watched by computers and our habits are then fed back to us like some digital Soylent Green. It's not hard to understand - things just got too complicated and overwhelming with the advent of the net. Suddenly and now seriously, we have the world (or at least a few pixels of it) at the tip our our mouse. Only natural for the marketing mavens to use it to sell us Shinola 2.0. Only natural for us to re-up after those first few cool experiences when Google helped us out of our usual Friday night "I dunno, where do you want to go?" conundrum. Only natural that we can surf anime unicorn porn with our 5,000 Facebook friends ('cause 5,001 would just be excessive).
Don't get me wrong, I'm damn glad that I can offer you up these nifty hyper-links to cleverly correlated lateral stories with us the click of my trusty mouse so that this here blog is more sticky and connected to other sticky digital stuff. But I would submit that we have allowed ourselves to click our way into a binary cattle chute that leads to - oh wait, you don't want to know that part; just rest assured it comes with a sesame seed bun...
I believe the drive to explore is important for us as a species. It expands us, hardens us, and softens us. It teaches us the value of mountain tops, of valley floors, of rivers, and of stars. By definition (at least mine) exploring means going off the map, into those empty spaces between other features well known. The best thing I have ever seen on a map was on a well-preserved version of the Western U.S. (circa about 1850) that had a large open area that held the following: "This area is largely unexplored and believed to be inhabited by savages." 140 years later, I still had to go on walkabout there, to see what might have been. It was still remote, harsh, and unwelcoming, but the only evidence of savages was the pavement that took me there. The original savages had apparently packed up and moved somewhere safer.
I can't change the way things are that much, but I do have a suggestion if any of this makes sense. Explore something. Turn off Yelp and just drive until you find a restaurant that looks interesting - no scratch that - one that looks a little spooky. Not haunted, just maybe not the kind of place that you would have ordinarily gone because it lies between the known. Maybe serving chow from someplace exotic, with a menu you can't quite navigate. Go there. Eat. Meet the owner. It may well suck, burn your face off, or unsettle your gut. But it also may be the hidden gem that will change your life. You may make a friend of owner, or busboy for that matter. Whatever it is you find, it will not be #chowking435's recommendation (map) - it will be yours. That's why we explore.
I believe that one of the best things in life just ain't found on a screen - wonder. Sure we can look at someplace far away on our Dell monitor and exclaim "Wow, will you just look at those monkeys!" But that isn't wonder; that's interest or curiosity, which are supposed to be the be the fuel of wonder. If we want wonder, we have to step into the blank space, whether in some remote jungle or just around the corner from our house at the Afghani restaurant. Exploring is a 5-sense endeavor. If we don't explore, we are left with a life that anyone could have lived.
If Teddy were here today, you can bet he wouldn't spend his weekends glued to an LED display (even if it was a 70" UHD 4k with Surround Sound, and there was a craft beer and a plate of nachos). He would seek out some nearby blank space, gather a team of fierce explorers and yell "Bully!" as they embarked on an adventure sure to test their mettle (I'm thinking we could use a bit more mettle these days). No, he wasn't exactly this caricature in real life, but he did have a passion for going there, for pushing through, and for bringing back his experiences, and I would rather follow a cartoon into the unknown than live a dull reality.
We are supposed to explore. How am I so sure of this? For two reasons mostly. Dogs and kids. Both of them are always up for exploring, for adventure. We have been given the gift of perpetual and ultimate companions who rarely judge and usually know what is best in life. We don't need to suffer to explore either, we just have to be willing to endure sometimes when it does happen. So give it a try, and let me know what you find. I'll put it on the map.
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