Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dangerous Places

Today we visited Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington DC – within feet of the Pentagon’s continent size parking lots. As I considered who it was I wanted to “visit” at the national cemetery, it became immediately obvious to me that it would be the gravesite of Admiral Richard E. Byrd – the great early 20th century explorer. Upon arrival, I looked Admiral Byrd’s site up on the map and off we went to find the grave plot of one of my childhood heroes.

In the 5th grade, I clearly remember reading the account of Admiral Byrd’s harrowing exploration of Antarctica. He decided for still unclear reasons to man single-handedly an Antarctica weather station some 123 miles from the nearest base – all alone – and totally out of reach of any rescuers that he may have needed for whatever reason. He wrote of this adventure in a book aptly titled, ALONE. It was truly an amazing account for a young boy who would later grow up to be an explorer himself. The primary lesson I gleaned from Admiral Byrd’s account was that true exploration was equivalent to struggle in the field and genuine adventure was invariably linked with its uncertainty. Anything else did not equal true exploration but more of a complicated camp-out pre-ordained by advanced press releases.

And so it was that as I knelt down beside Admiral Byrd’s gravesite that I felt a sense of gratitude that of all the explorers that first seized my attention – it was he and not the 20th and 21st century gentleman adventurers who gauge exploration by probabilities of guaranteed success. Admiral Byrd reminds us all that real explorers engaged in real exploration are more often than not fully engaged by the true danger of the adventure and not the adventure’s payoff in the end. Said Byrd,

“I watched the sky a long time, concluding that such beauty was reserved for distant, dangerous places, and that nature has good reason for exacting her own special sacrifices from those determined to witness them.”