I like to think that our environment influences our childhood, and our childhood influences the rest of our lives. I grew up during the golden age of space exploration, the era where science and engineering reigned supreme. It was time of the race to space and to the Moon. It was the age of the test pilot astronaut, as well as the pocket protector and slide rulers. It felt like wearing a white shirt and a black tie and working at mission control were cool things back then. Every kid wanted to fly a jet, or better yet, a rocket and land on the Moon, Mars or some other far off planet. I remember being glued to my TV during the Apollo missions, wondering what it must feel to be out there in space, or even walking on the Moon.
The spirit of adventure and exploration were alive everywhere during those times. I still remember one of my favorite TV shows, “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau”. I could not wait for Sunday evening to roll around so I could finally join Jacque Cousteau and his team on the Calypso for another adventure! We would be exploring the depth of the oceans, a coral reef, or some fascinating marine environment such as the Mariana Trench about the mini sub. It was fun to imagine what it would be like to be onboard the Calypso, to wear a red diver’s cap and have access to all the cool gear. Yes, I am talking about the special dive equipment like full-face masks so they could communicate under water with the mini subs and the ROVs (remotely operated vehicle for the uninitiated). All of this made a deep impression on me. It may have been food for the mind, the catalyst that would eventually lead me to be curious about how things work, about technology and engineering.
Toys also played on the exploration and discovery themes. One of my favorites was the G.I. Joe Adventure team action figures. Some people incorrectly called them dolls, but they were action figures and don’t let anyone say otherwise. They had life-like hair and beards, and realistic human features. The adventure team was what today would be called a “politically correct” toy for its time. As a push back to the Vietnam War, Hasbro produced this set of action figures based on the original G.I. Joe in the 1960s. But instead of having a military theme, these action figures were explorers. There were several different team members: an archeologist, a pilot, an astronaut, a sea explorer, and the commander who assigned their missions. Because of my love for the oceans, I had the Sea Explorer, with dive gear and all. I fondly remember the many time I filled up the tub and played, diving under water with his sea scooter (it actually worked, batteries not included). I even built a mini sub and an underwater sea lab out of cardboard to live out more adventures, of course not inside the bath tub that would just have made a big mess. This was a time when kids made up lots of their own toys and created their own play; imagination ran wild. It was a great time to be a kid!
My childhood was filled with many adventures. The kind of stuff kids would do back in those days, think of the show Stranger Things, but without the sci-fi stuff. We would go out with our friends and explore new places on our bikes. We would find a new cool snorkeling spot that was known to no one, and which our parents most likely wouldn’t allow us to go; so, we wouldn’t tell them. We would build some cockamamie new thingamajig and go test it out; again, something else we didn’t tell our parents since we had previously taken apart some house hold appliance for some essential parts. Being very honest, most of these so-called inventions never worked, and at best would work unpredictably and sometimes even dangerously. This reminds me of the time when I rigged up my walkie talkie to plug into the wall outlet. According to my calculations, this was going to increase the range, which would allow me to talk to my friends who lived miles away. You can only imagine how that worked out…it scared the bejesus out of me and started a small fire! The fun part of this was we never knew how things would turn out; it made life an ever-unpredictable adventure.
Time passes, life happens, and at some point, you just grow up. You suddenly realize that you will not be a diver on the Calypso, or an astronaut going to space, or any type of adventure team explorer. You realize that for the most part, you will have an ordinary life. You will have an ordinary job and raise an ordinary family. This is just the way things usually work out for most people. Most of us accept this life as a simple banal existence. Then one day you realize many years have passed. The world is a totally different place from where you lived out your childhood adventures. Now there are computers in every home, maybe even in every room. Every member of the family has a cell phone, even the kids. And there is this thing called the Internet that connects everyone’s computer and cellphones to this strange place called the cloud. Nobody knows what happens in the cloud, but we all want to be connected to it.
This morning, I am on Google, a cloud-based search tool, looking for something or other most likely of no real significance. When I first open the Google page, this cool looking Google doodle pops up in the center of the screen. To be honest, I personally like the Google doodles; they are mostly funny and sometimes educational. So, I am compelled to click on it; I need to satisfy my curiosity. What is this doodle all about? Who is the person whose birthday is being celebrated today? What made them so important that we would want to remember him or her? There are so many questions rushing to my mind. Then I click. Wow, I am floored! Its Fridtjof Wedel-Jarlsberg Nansen. Who? Some guy I have never heard of. But wait. This guy was everything I aspired to be, a Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat, humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Well, maybe I never aspired to be Norwegian, but everything else is way cool. In his youth, he was a champion skier. He led the team that made the first crossing of the Greenland interior. I always have wanted to trek in Greenland. He won international fame after reaching a record northern latitude. His techniques of polar travel and his innovations in equipment and clothing influenced a generation of Arctic and Antarctic expeditions.
As I read the final entry from Wikipedia It suddenly hits me, I will never be anything like this guy. I will never explore Greenland or the arctic or invent cool arctic gear. I will not be living the G.I. Joe adventure team lifestyle any time soon. However, I do share one thing in common with Fridtjof, or Frit for short. It is something all explorers share, curiosity. Curiosity is the engine of exploration. To learn and to know the unknown. To venture into this new world.
Having written this, I would like to re-frame what it means to be an explore to me. Sure, I won’t be able to go into space or be part of Cousteau’s team on the Calypso. However, I feel the only requirement to have the explorer’s spirit is to remain curious. This is something we can all do and cultivate. It is also a key ingredient into being a lifelong learner. It is the Key for continued personal growth and development.
There are so many things to be curious about. I was curious about the Google doodle of the day. That led me to the discovery of some new people and facts, which in turn inspired me to write this story. Maybe I will take on the cloud next and see what makes it tick. How about learning about a new culture or language or cooking style? Perhaps explore a new hobby or develop a new skill? These are all ways that we explore. And of course, we can do some exploration of new places. Start with places you have not been in your own city or town. You’d be surprised how many there are. Even different cultures within the city. Be adventurous and even go to those parts of town that are a bit on the wild side, you know what I mean. Then travel a bit further out, perhaps to the next city, to the next county, and so on. The possibilities are endless. Perhaps I will plan a trip to Greenland and take the opportunity to practice photography there. Exploration is all around us. Just remain curious, like that little kid long ago that dreamt about going into space, playing out his fantasies along with the G.I. Joe adventure team. Cultivate your inner child, because yes, we can all be explorers.
PS: I just bought my G.I. Joe adventure team t-shirt a few weeks ago. Living the dream now!
Photo from: Vintage3Djoes