What is this strange force that draws us out into the world? Why is it that we insist on leaving the comfort, safety and predictability of our homes for the ferment of the world-out-there? After millennia of domesticating life, why should we humans still want to plunge ourselves so frivolously into the unknown? Why do we keep going even though we’re exhausted and the sun’s going down and all our bodies are craving is real food and a fire?
Ancient Pangs, Modern Ennui
Though some might find clear continuity between our species’ evolutionary history and the passion many of us have for adventures of various sorts, I’m not so sure lines can be drawn in any straightforward manner. There’s just no telling what our ancestors were thinking as they departed Africa and began to go forth into the Earth and subdue it.
Perhaps the pangs of ancient famines linger in the deepest recesses of our minds, waiting the way certain desiccated toads do to spring into action should environmental conditions suddenly change. Perhaps we’re hardwired to take pleasure in poking around new places so we’ll be willing to leave this or that land should the local environment become unlivable. Or perhaps our motivation is wholly distinct from that which motivated the scions of Mitochondrial Eve to traverse such great distances. Perhaps we merely suffer from an ennui unprecedented in the history of our race. Perhaps we all have our own reasons.
Poking Around The Southwest
Regardless, the fact remains: We head to the mountains and deserts, where hazards are as numerous as the precipices and vipers that populate them. We’re swallowed up in space and time out there. We walk that knife’s edge where ability and challenge are perfectly matched. We terrify ourselves, and in that terror we find an almost mystical ecstasy that keeps us coming back.
In the weeks and months to come — as I poke around the American Southwest by car and on foot — I will return to this puzzle many times, though it’s doubtful we’ll arrive at any final answers about what makes us behave so strangely. I’ll also tell you about things I’m seeing and learning about. The goal? To create a sort of map of this amazing land, a map that I pray will catalyze, facilitate and enrich your own expeditions farther still into the Earth’s wild places.