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Posts Tagged ‘Exploration’

There’s so much in this world to explore! I’m watching The Discovery Channel/BBC’s Planet Earth and in the episodes I’ve tuned in for they’ve explored the caves of the earth and the stark tundras of the Arctic and Antarctic. I’m astonished by the odd environments that are otherwise unseen by the vast majority of eyes in this world. It’s a beautiful testament to the extraordinary and seemingly infinite scapes our home contains. But, what’s perhaps most fascinating is the extent to which we human beings exert ourselves, in the name of science and in the name of curiosity, to gaze upon these wonders.

Nature provides many hostile environments. Some caves are fuming with noxious gasses, flowing with dangerously basic or acidic liquids–undrinkable, even untouchable to us–, and rife with strange and wonderful creatures like snotites and glow worms. And the antarctic icescapes are barren and void of anything that would make a stay particularly hospitable for a regular human being. Mankind is not physically evolutionarily equipped to survive the biting snowfields of the antarctic as they stand today. But, despite the barriers that deter most people, there are some that choose to ignore nature, and to experience for themselves environments not meant for the human experience. People traverse the caves with gas masks and protective clothing, taking every precaution to allow them to survive in the unsurvivable. Fur-less people layer their clothing in a land that, without the modern conveniences of opposable thumbs, would otherwise kill them.

I’m reminded of the latest Werner Herzog documentary, Encounters at the End of the World, which explores just the type of people that seek to traverse the paths less taken. The film is set in Antarctica among the disparate souls that work and dwell amidst the freezing polar days and nights. In it we get to meet, among the travelers, the workmen and the scientists working with the National Science Foundation, folks like a former banker from Colorado, Peace Corp member and truck driver; a Russian philosopher and forklift driver; even a linguist in a land without language tending to a greenhouse in a white in-arable land of ice and snow.

Herzog’s film features one particular contemplative, lingering scene that encapsulates the spirit of the kinds of people who seek to explore the humanly inhabitable ends of our world. To the right of the ice field, off camera, is the penguin colony, and to the left, also off camera. is the edge of the ice, the feeding grounds for the penguins. One group of penguins moves toward the colony, another moves toward the feeding grounds. But, one lone penguin, akin to few others before it, opts against either destination. The penguin begins moving toward the mountains, away from its peers and from sustenance, toward nothingness and certain death. Yet, as one of the scientists explains, even if one were to bring the penguin back to the colony, it would immediately start its journey once more.

Who could say why penguins like the ones in Herzog’s film choose to travel in a direction void of the comforts that is normally sought. Do these penguins seek to fulfill a sense of adventure and curiosity like the explorer Sir Ernest Henry Shackelton, who, too, stubbornly embarked on a final expedition of the Antarctic? Is it a derangement of the mind, blocking all sense of foolhardy danger?

While the explorer penguins do not survive to tell their tale to the colony they leave behind, and though their expedition can be likened to an act of suicide, despite all that, I get the sense that they are all the better off for it. They deny the hesitation, the sense to turn back to safety, and push on, sating the yearning of their soul.

Or maybe I’m thinking too romantically about the subject. Anyway. Adieu.


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