|This week Jinny's article will be written by her daughter, Adele Anderson.
I recently read a book by a guy who had climbed Mount Everest. Climbing Mount Everest is obviously a big deal. Big enough to write a book about. It is symbolic of the ultimate human struggle to overcome impossible odds, suffer unfathomable torment, and emerge alive and victorious. We use Mount Everest references all the time in speech. Phrases like, "Wow, getting through that meeting at work was like climbing Mount Everest", or, "Oh, man, having Christmas dinner with my in-laws is going to be like climbing Mount Everest."
The fellow who climbed the legendary mountain and wrote a book about it managed to survive the business, but just barely. His description of the actual climb was exhausting and horrifying to just read; actually doing it must have been horrendous. The fact that I found most intriguing was his description of finally reaching the peak. He crawled on his hands and knees to reach the flag that was driven into the snow long ago by some other climber that indicated the highest point on the mountain. When he got there, he was too exhausted and near death to even stand up and look around. I couldn't help wondering what, exactly, was the point of doing it at all? I mean, why go through all that torture and terror to get to the highest point on earth and be literally standing on top of the world if you end up being too nearly dead to be interested in enjoying the view? Wouldn't it make more sense to just find someone else who is going up, give him a camera, and ask him to take pictures for you? Clearly, people who climb Mount Everest are a little loony.
I like to think that I am an adventuress at heart, but there is a limit to how intrepid and fearless I am willing to be. I admire that kind of daring-do, but I also think that it is possible that people who do those things might not have both feet in their sneakers, if you know what I mean. I have read extensively on the subject and I feel pretty justified in making a mental health judgment call on explorer types. Take those crazy Englishmen who, over a hundred years or so, decided to sail into Hudson Bay in wooden ships and find the Northwest Passage. You know, the one that didn't exist. They ended up with their ships stranded in ice, running out of food, and forced to walk over hundreds of miles of ice cap trying to find a way out. It didn't generally work out very well. The large majority of them died, but not before they ate all their canned goods, which were sealed with lead, contracted lead poisoning, and lost their minds before shuffling off into the afterlife. There is a record of interviews with Eskimos who occasionally met up with the explorers during their desperate attempts at finding a way out. Invariably, the Eskimos expressed the firm belief that the white men were crazy. No kidding.
Arctic explorers, both North and South, must have been masochists at heart. I can imagine a bunch of well dressed Englishmen sitting around at the club having an after dinner brandy and deciding that it would be a marvelous idea to sail off to the harshest environment on earth where it is so cold that your tongue freezes to the roof of your mouth and nothing grows or lives except polar bears and penguins just for a little look-see. What did they expect to see, exactly? These are ice caps we are talking about; there isn't anything else but ice. It's not like they could go there, open a little tea shop and play some cricket.
Astronauts are a lot like Arctic Explorers; expecially the early ones. What on earth compelled them to be shot out of the atmosphere at some terrifying velocity in a rocket, with enough highly explosive fuel to flatten a continent, into a giant, cold, black vacuum from which no one was entirely certain they could return without being fried to a crisp? And they volunteered, no less. Did the scientists gather them all in a room and say, "Listen guys, here's the deal. We want you to let us propel you into space. We've never done it before, so we can't promise you that it is going to work or anything, and we are not 100% sure of what we are doing, but hey, it might be kind of fun"? I don't know about anyone else, but I'm pretty sure I don't know anybody I trust that much. Astronauts have got to be a little crazy. If they aren't when they go up, they probably are when they get back. I read somewhere that astronauts come back to earth and are never the same again. I'll buy that. The way I figure it, you can't go out into the vast, dark, cold, emptiness of space, get a good look at your little planet hanging out there in the void, and not have your brain ripped out of your skull, shaken like a pair of maracas, and put back in your head a little differently.
Hands down, I think that the Vikings take the cake for crazy. They were undoubtedly some of the toughest guys that ever lived, but they were not exactly brain surgeons or anything. They didn't even have a written language. Of course, in Viking school they didn't have time to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. It would have taken time away from the pillaging, plundering, and putting people to the sword classes. I don't think the Vikings often sat around pondering the meaning of life. It was pretty clear that they were supposed to live, fight, die in glorious battle, and go to Valhalla where they could fight some more, drink plenty of mead, and party for the rest of eternity. Pretty simple stuff. If you take a look at where the Vikings came from, it is evident that there wasn't a whole lot going on there. There was minimal farmland and a growing season of about 2.5 milliseconds. Lots of fish, though. But those guys were shipbuilding, sailing fools, so they jumped into their relatively tiny boats, with no cabins and nothing but a load stone to guide them, and decided to take off across the North Atlantic, the most dangerous and unpredictable ocean on earth, to see if there were any other people out there they could steal stuff from. Of course, they believed that the earth, whatever it was, was flat, and there was a pretty good chance that they might sail off the end of it, but what the heck? They were Vikings, after all. It didn't take long for them to figure out that they were much bigger and tougher than anyone they ran
into, so all things considered, it was a good call. Fortunately for them, they were crazy as howling dogs and it all worked out.
We probably should be grateful that there have always certifiable lunatics among us who want to chase the horizon, brave the seas, follow the stars, and climb the mountains. I have nothing but admiration for them. I'm just not crazy enough for the job. I'll just go to my mailbox and get a postcard from someone who has been to the top of the world.
Until they invent some Star Trekkie way to transport me there without all the life-threatening danger, I'll just remain content with, "Wish you were here."