February 23, 2021

Come on! Let’s go see where this goes!


We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

-T. S. Eliot


A dirt path, covered with the tan and orange detritus of winter, winds through and amongst naked trees and bushes.  It rolls out in front of Waldo and I in a gentle arc that disappears after a short distance, curving around then veiled by its swathe of hibernating plant life.  Some green persists, but only that offered up by the white pine that’s scattered here and there in the forest — the deciduous trees, bushes and vines are all brown and skeletal.  What grass remains is mostly buried under a thick blanket of rotting leaves.  The oaks and maples slumber on in the cold and still give shelter to squirrels.  There are rabbits about, but they shelter from the icy air in their snug hidey-holes.  Most of the birds are gone, but a few linger on, chattering softly in the bare branches.  This wintery world is a quiet pastel place, yet the air itself assaults any exposed skin as if to demand a price for this peace, while simultaneously drawing the mind to the present moment.  It is a perfect time and place for a wandering, wondering mind.

Waldo trots along, apparently searching for anything of interest, and he finds it.  A stick here, pee-mail there, a fading vestige of scent left behind by some passing animal, it is all there for the discerning nose.  His mind seems to be wandering as well, going from one external experience to another.  We are both exploring.

Exploration has served mankind well, over the ages.  It brought our ancestors down from the trees, spread them out over the plains and then onto a vast diaspora that covered the Earth.  No other species has wandered so far and wide.  And our travels have been internal as well as external.  Philosophy, mathematics, art, literature, innumerable things that people do can be understood as exploration, extending the boundaries of the familiar.  What is it that urges us on?

Some might think that it is a need, like breathing, drinking and eating.  But I don’t think so.  Needs have goals in their sights and the inability to attain those goals cause frustration and anger (among other things).  And, if you do attain your goal, you then cling to it ferociously.  Exploration is different.  When you explore, you have no idea what you’re going to encounter and, often, your most valuable finds aren’t tangible things, but experiences.  Experiences you can only hold in your memory, not your hands, and they only have value on reflection.  Then, once you find what’s there, your thirst is not quenched, and you move on to the next discovery.  One is driven more by curiosity and wonder than by need.  And trying to satisfy that curiosity is no more a need than flowing water has a need for the sea, or a falling apple has a need for the ground.  It’s an expression of our nature.  To not explore is to not be human.

Now, not everyone safaris in Africa when they hear hic sunt leones (here be lions).  But every single one of us has felt curiosity in one form or another and has probed their personal unknown to some degree.  It is universal among our species, although many may suppress the urge, sublimate the longing.  At its best, exploration is the direct outcome of a sense of wonder.  It is the direct result of appreciating the magic of the human condition.  Not so much asking the questions, “Why are we here?” or “What’s the purpose of life?” or even “What is a human life?” as much as just bathing ourselves in the magical experience, as it is, of being a living, breathing, feeling, thinking human being in a world whose vastness will always be beyond our poor ability to grasp it all with our puny minds.

Today, I’m content to open myself up to my immediate surroundings.  To watch the unfolding of the world right in front of me as it dances and sings in nature’s icy recital.  To discover the curious and wonderful magic that speaks to me if I only take the time to look and listen.  And Waldo is doing much the same thing, in his own Waldo way.  So, maybe, the drive to explore is not exclusively a human thing.

Maybe it’s part and parcel of having a mind of any kind.


Phyllis likes to explore too.

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