The various meanings of “Exploration”

Name 5 famous explorers. If pushed into a corner and asked that question on a quiz, I would probably come up with something like, Shackleton, Amundsen, Livingston, Thesinger, Stanley – or maybe Ranulph Fiennes. What do they all have in common? Well they all tackled hugely forbidding physical challenges and, in so doing, they manifested almost superhuman courage and endurance. In short, they were heroes, larger than life, putting us to shame with their energy, ambition and tenacity.

My answer reflects the same cast of mind that classifies the “big five” as the lion, the leopard, the elephant, the rhinoceros and the African buffalo. They too are highly visible, hugely physical and potentially dangerous. They are celebrated in innumerable books by famous hunters, themselves heroic figures, and are powerful symbols much beloved by politicians and animal activists. In short, they are celebrities and hence catch our attention and admiration.

But what about the humble dassie? That shapeless blob, usually seen sunning itself on a rock while fixing us with its small, black unblinking, button eyes, ready to dive for cover at the slightest hint of danger. Dassies are inseparable from the South African landscape but we pay them no heed. Well most of us. Wilf Nussey of Murdock Valley on the other hand has brought them to life in 7 witty, informative and sympathetic posts to be found in his blog, Our Urban Wilderness. Mr Nussey is also an explorer, looking beyond the obvious and showing us the magic in the mundane – while entertaining us at the same time.

So let us celebrate a different kind of exploration, a more personal and less heroic variety but no less worthy of admiration and emulation. Science, for example, is not the dry and boring last resort of the irretrievably nerdish as so often depicted in the popular media and such appalling productions as the “Big Bang Theory”. Scientific investigation (exploration) is immensely exciting and often extremely demanding, requiring as much discipline and single-minded application as the most heroic of adventures. Some scientists, like the Curies for instance, paid with their lives for their obsessive curiosity. Many are as varied, flawed and amazing as any of the celebrated explorers.

And what about Alain de Botton’s slight but charming and endlessly informative little book entitled “The Art of Travel“?  Dipping into it opens up a universe of ideas and raw information, presented in a fresh and original perspective. You will want to reread it obsessively to remind you of the infinite richness of the apparently mundane once you are willing to look beyond the flashing lights and slogans of our culture.

While we enjoy what Wilf and Alain  have laid before us let them also serve as a spur to our own endeavours. Einstein said (amongst other things) “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research.”. So let us throw off our shackles: there is a universe out there, and also within each one of us if we look hard enough. We are all partners on this eternal quest for deeper insight and meaning.

This is supposed to be a photographic blog, amongst other things, so let me bring you some images from a recent hike along the path above the main drop of our very own Simon’s Town Waterfall in the good company of Roger Foster who led the way over the tricky bits. No, it does not count as real exploration but, for me at least, it revealed a fresh look at our endlessly delightful corner of the planet Earth; one I’ll explore further in due course and bring you better information and images (with the help of local fundis).

PS. If you right click on the images in the TODAY’S FAVOURITE IMAGES widget you can get the higher resolution photo in its own tab.

Mike Berger

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