It’s odd that I never noticed, until the other day, the frayed red thread at the bottom of my North Face socks. Three words were set together to create a simple slogan: Never Stop Exploring. It’s a simple catchphrase that got me thinking: How exploring can fill up a life. How we learn when we explore, and in learning we get to know pieces of the world. Exploring gets us outside, which instigates a curiosity about nature, all of it, the dirt, the sky, the trees, the critters. The snow. Ever stand perfectly still in a snowstorm and listen to the white flakes falling on your hood? Or look outward to a curving river at the bottom of a deep red rock canyon and watch a hawk riding on wind waves? Ever see a line of ants scurrying from one end of a patch of forest to another, carrying what looks like grains of rice? Or glimpse from a corner of your eye a chickadee dash back and forth from its nest to feed its young, in what seems like a million trips a day?
In my research for this column I’ve contacted many experts in the fields of flora and fauna, as part of my exploration, and two teams, in particular, impressed me: a group of ant students and professors, and a group of chickadee students and professors. The barrage of emails I received from the ant experts and the hours spent talking with the chickadee graduate students proved an enthusiasm way beyond merely pumping out scholarly papers. These bug and bird people take exploring seriously. Case in point. One of the chickadee grad students wears a tattoo on the underside of her forearm that reads “Chick-a-dee-dee” with a graph above, showing the musical association of the words.
To explore is to get to know that part which is wholly connected to us: the ground beneath our feet, the trees above our bodies, the water that flows into creeks, rivers, lakes, and oceans. The stars at night. The moon, the sun. Nature sustains us. First, in providing breath and liquid. Second, in offering a variety of environments and its inhabitants to explore.
As renowned nature writer Mary Oliver wrote in her latest collection of essays Upstream, “I had to go out into the world and see it and hear it and react to it, before I knew at all who I was, what I was, what I wanted to be.” So, there’s that, exploring to learn who we are in relation to who and what is out there. Exploration also steers us toward understanding the relation of things, or as John Muir wrote, how everything is “hitched” to everything else.
On January 24, 2017, the San Francisco Chronicle reported: “the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] was directed to freeze all new contracts and grants for outside organizations.” In other words, exploration stopped. In other words, no exploration, no information. In other words, no information begets no discussion, no remedies, no restoration, no protection.
If there ever was a time to explore, it’s now. Now is the time to get to know where we live, in the mountains or deserts, small towns or large cities. Nature lives everywhere we do. We survive because of nature, and on occasion we are filled with incredible awe at the complex intricacies of nature, how it all works. Never stop exploring, my socks tell me, which is a strange tablet for such a profound idiom. But it sure got me thinking. Explorer. What a grand aspiration.
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