There is a question, sometimes posed as a lament, in many of the writings I’ve come across lately. I could write down quite a list, but I don’t actually remember all the places. Another one came at me today though. It is the idea that there used to still be adventures to be had, unexplored places to chart, great feats to accomplish, but that for the most part, they are all gone. I remember reading as a child about the mysterious jungle of the Congo and how there was still things in there that no man had ever seen and lived to write about. That was an exciting prospect. But now, we have GPS, and I can pull up Google maps and grab the satellite imagery of my own car parked in the lot of my office building. Then I can swing it over a few degrees and peer deep into Africa and see right where that dangerous path by the waterfall leads. What’s the point in going there now?
Thomas Merton, in his book Mystics and Zen Masters, (which is about 90% straight-up history and reads like a graduate dissertation), discusses the story of St. Brendan‘s expeditions and how he found an island paradise somewhere beyond the Atlantic. Nobody could ever find it again though, but tales like this fueled exploration and also deeper desires inside of us. Christopher Columbus would have been well aware of this particular (myth?) when he set out to the new world. Merton (writing in the 1960’s) discusses how the complete mapping of the earth has changed the face of spiritual pilgrimage and wandering. Searching for that special place has forever lost some of it’s potency. Nevertheless, we will pilgrim on because the thing that drives us inside of has not diminished one bit. We are still looking for our creator.
The protagonist in Arturo Perez-Reverte’s novel The Nautical Chart wrestles with this same deep issue:
Because after so many novels, so many films, and so many songs, there weren’t even innocent drunks anymore. And Coy asked himself, envying him, what the first man felt the first time he went out to hunt a whale, a treasure, or a woman, without having read about it I a book.