A Philosophy of Exploration

River hiking in the middle of the city.
River hiking in the middle of the city.

From where I was stood, balanced on top of a huge pile of dead trees stretching 200 meters down the front of an old damn, I could see no good way forward.  Eli rested his hands on top of my head, and solemnly surveyed the scene from his perch on my shoulders.  We were searching for a new swimming hole, and had spent the past half hour thrashing through weeds, unsuccessfully attempting to avoid the poison ivy lurking in the underbrush, climbing over boulders, and balancing on logs.  We found an old damn which funneled water into a disused/crumbling hydroelectric plant; the original thought was that if we walked out this damn towards the middle of the river, we might find a good spot in front of the damn where the water backed up.  The massive log jam in front of us, the product of decades of floods and storms, proved my intuition was wrong.

It was at that moment that I realized that the word “explore” really just means “to make lots of mistakes.”

I said as much to Eli, who really just wanted to swim.  He informed me we were “esplorering,” so I took that as his blessing to continue.  We backtracked (back down the damn, over the huge logs), then crossed from the damn to an island on a fallen tree.  A short walk and a short wade later, we found a beautiful, isolated gravel bar next to a section of river that was the perfect depth with a sandy bottom, and enough movement in the water to keep it fresh and not stagnant.  We splashed and swam until it was time to head home for dinner.  Eli fell asleep on the way home, which is as good a measure of an expedition’s success as any.

Walking through the old hydroelectric plant, starting the search for a swimming spot.
Walking through the old hydroelectric plant, starting the search for a swimming spot.
Mel and Eli discover a toad!
Mel and Eli discover a toad!

The whole experience caused me to reflect a bit on exploration.  I was only half serious when I said exploration really just means making lots of mistakes, and yet at the same time making mistakes is a huge part of exploration.

In order to make my musings more formal, I looked up the actual meaning of explore in the dictionary.  This is what I found:

EXPLORE:   A transitive verb.

1)  To investigate, study, or analyze.

2)  To become familiar with by testing or experimenting.

3)  To travel over (new territory) for adventure or discovery.

4)  To examine, especially for diagnostic purposes.

-Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Definition #3 is a no-brainer, especially for the purposes of this blog.  But I think I like #2 best; in a nutshell, its exactly what we were doing last night.  We figured there would be a good waterhole somewhere in the area we were exploring, and set off to test our hypothesis.

Failure and mistakes are inherent to the process of exploration.  As famously pointed out by The Princess Bride, “Anyone who says differently is selling something.”  Look at Ernest Shackleton, my favorite explorer.  He lost his ship to the ice, and his crew had to survive on whatever they could until rescued.  Hardly auspicious, yet we view Shackleton as a successful explorer.  Why?  Because of how he responded.

Since making mistakes is an inherent part of exploration, fearing those mistakes shouldn’t hold you back.  Instead, the best explorers focus on responding to mistakes and challenges in positive and well-considered ways.  Back to Shackleton.  After he lost his ship, he undertook a daring voyage in an open boat to an isolated whaling village to get help for his men.  He ended up rescuing all of them.

We’re not all Shackleton, or J. Michael Fay, or David Livingstone, or Ed Viesters.  But we can explore nonetheless.

Because explore is just a big word that means to make lots of mistakes.

And as you explore, don't forget to play in the dirt.  That's important too.
And as you explore, don’t forget to play in the dirt. That’s important too.

 

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Paramedic School is Over!

Rawley Springs, taken during a recent visit to Harrisonburg
Rawley Springs, taken during a recent visit to Harrisonburg

Well, I took another of those blogger breaks, which I’m ashamed to admit have been fairly frequent in the past year.  However, my posts should pick up again now.

Paramedic school is over!

We finished the classroom portion of the class on July 28th.  I finished my last field ride (working as a paramedic student in an ambulance, with actual patients) on August 3rd.  I took the psycho-motor exam (which is fancy talk for an exam testing how well I can do the practical skills of paramedicine, like intubate, start IV’s, calculate drug dosages, manage an emergency scene, perform patient assessment, etc. etc.) on August 9th, almost a year exactly from when I started the program.

My goal.  So close!
My goal. So close!

At this point, the only thing standing between me and certification as a paramedic is the written exam, which I will schedule sometime in the next two weeks.  I have four attempts to pass a long, multiple-choice exam.  Of course, I hope to knock it out on the first shot!  I’ve been enjoying having some additional time off now.  It’s a bit of a shock to go from working long stretches of time without a break, to having regularly scheduled days off.

To celebrate, we took a quick trip to Northern VA and Washington DC.  The primary reason was that our friends Chris and Kelly had invited us to a Nickel Creek concert.  They were fantastic!  One of the only bands I’ve ever been to that sounds as good in concert as they do on recordings.  Eli also enjoyed the concert, spending a great amount of time dancing and yelling “Nickel Creek!  Nickel Creek!” (he’s a big fan).

We also visited the Air and Space Museum and the National Zoo, which were big hits with Eli.

We went to a local baseball game recently.
We went to a local baseball game recently.
Eli was more interested in climbing the stairs to the very top row of the stadium than watching the game.  Future climber.
Eli was more interested in climbing the stairs to the very top row of the stadium than watching the game. Future climber.
We managed a family selfie too.
We managed a family selfie too.
Eli loved the airplanes.  Everytime he saw an airplane fly overhead, he would announce "That's my airplane!"  Apparently he owns United Airlines...
Eli loved the airplanes. Everytime he saw an airplane fly overhead, he would announce “That’s my airplane!” Apparently he owns United Airlines…
Tyrannosaur child!
Tyrannosaur child!
The giant Amazonian fish were also a big hit.
The giant Amazonian fish were also a big hit.

Now that paramedic school is over, I hope to begin to repair some of the physical damage the past year has caused.  I had hoped that I would be able to exercise regularly, but it became apparent about a third of the way through that many times there would just not be enough hours in the day.  I also had to choose food based on the “How quickly can it be ready, and can I eat it in the time period before I get my next call?” scale.  I also became addicted to Red Bull.  Yes, I know its terrible for me, but when you have to be alert, but don’t have enough time to get adequate sleep, you have to make sacrifices.  I’m not proud of it, but I did what I had to at the time.  I know I’ve gained some weight (truth be told I’m a bit afraid to step on the scale right now–I will be forcing myself to face reality later tonight).

Now that life has slowed down, I plan to start making healthier choices, and to start exercising again.  I also hope to start doing the things that help me relax. I miss cooking and trying new recipes, visiting historic sites, and yes, hiking and rock climbing.

So, hopefully more updates and mountain-based musing soon!

Hope to see you soon, Seneca!
Hope to see you soon, Seneca!