Tag: spirituality

Call of the Unknown and the Roots of Adventure

“I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.”
― Jack London

Most people who love to explore the outdoors are aware of some story about nature and tragedy. Into Thin Air by John Krakauer tells the well-known tale of the 1996 disaster on Mt. Everest, when a storm swept the mountain and killed twelve people, including experienced guides. The 2010 movie 127 Hours depicts the true story of Aron Ralston, a legendary Colorado climber, who became trapped in Blue John Canyon when a boulder crushed his arm. He narrowly escaped 6 days later, starved, and having had to cut his own arm off. The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer follows the historical struggles of the men who fought to conquer Eiger in the Bernese Alps. Within this book is the account of Toni Kurtz, a young climber who died on the mountain in 1936 while hanging, trapped from a rope a mere 60 meters from his rescuers. The list goes on, and on. For every story of triumph in nature there is always a poignant, tragic reminder that human life is fragile, and nature can take that spark as unfeelingly as ever.

So, why is it, in a world of Western comforts, complete with a universe of fictional worlds to explore from the safety of our homes, that people still go out to face the forces of the natural world? Why risk death to summit a mountain, or see the depths of an otherworldly canyon in the middle of the wilderness? In the past, when exploration was tantamount to national pride, the sacrifice of George Mallory perhaps made more sense, but in the modern world, in which nearly every corner of the Earth seems to have been explored, even this motivation has lost its relevancy. Yet, we keep exploring, and putting our lives on the line. Why? Why, when the planet has been mapped and we all know what can happen when we fail?

I believe that exploration is part of us, a siren call that led us from the heart of Africa to the rest of the planet. There is no other multi-celled organism that is as common and widespread as humans, and we cannot say that our modern technology is behind our ability to spread and adapt. Long, long before Columbus ever set out on his fateful journey to the “Indies,” North and South America were fully colonized by humans. There were intricate civilizations and a myriad of different cultures there; most of these women and men were descended from the brave people that dared to face the freezing weather of the north in order to cross the land-bridge between modern-day Alaska and Russia. Likewise, before Europeans struggled against the wind and waves of the Pacific, the ancestors of the Polynesian people faced the true unknown and ventured out into the water. Wave after wave, generation after generation, we humans have explored. We have put our lives on the line for uncharted vistas.

So, while people that still live by this code can be confounding, I think it is good to know that the spirit of the original humans lives on in us. We have thrived because we spread, we innovated, we adapted, and we explored. Perhaps continuing to tout the flag of our ancestors will help us, improve our happiness, and keep our minds open. Yes, the world has been mapped and named, but for each of us, Earth is a massive expanse of new people and places. Exploration is just as important as ever. It binds us to the real world, connects us to new cultures and perspectives, and keeps us feeling alive.

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Exploring the Inner Hebrides On Skye, Mull, Staffa, and Iona

(c) Wikipedia

(c) Wikipedia

Our adventures in the Inner Hebrides began in the Isle of Skye, and then through the Isle of Mull, Isle of Staffa, and the Isle of Iona. Of these, Staffa and Iona were my favorite and I will honestly say that we didn’t see much of Mull, although I would have loved to hike there.

Fairy Pools (c) ABR 2016

Fairy Pools (c) ABR 2016

The Isle of Skye is somewhere that everyone seems to love, but I found it a little disappointing after the highlands. The landscapes were beautiful and the culture is unique, but in terms of sheer amazement, the highlands took the gold and the Isle of Skye had far more tourists, which made parking and exploring that much harder. My favorite thing on the island, by far, was the Fairy Pools. We had to park about a kilometer away from them due to how busy they were but there were less and less people the further we went down the trail. The stream and the mountains were everything that I had been led to believe that the Isle of Skye was- breathtaking, somewhat eery, but inarguably beautiful. I only wish we had had more time to explore there. But we wanted to visit the Dunvegan Castle before it closed so we only had about 2 hours at the pools. Sadly, of all the castles that we saw, this one was the least interesting in my opinion. There wasn’t much to its museum, and the castle was really more like a mansion than anything else. After that, with time to spare, we

Museum of Island Life (c) ABR 2016

Museum of Island Life (c) ABR 2016

decided to drive the rest of the island before arriving in Portree for the night. While the Museum of Island Life was a very interesting look into the historical and current state of island life in Skye, the rest of the drive was just not comparable to what we had already seen. Kilt Rock was a nice stop for a few minutes, but the Old Man of Skorr was too crowded for us to really stop at. There was no where to park and we weren’t willing to hike down the street like we had for the Fairy Pools.

Countryside of Mull (c) ABR 2016

Countryside of Mull (c) ABR 2016

For the other three Inner Hebrides that we visited, we went to on a “Three Island Tour.” While I was overall very happy with this experience, I think that the better name for it would be the “Two Island Tour and a Drive Across Mull,” because while we spent the perfect amount of time of the Isle of Staffa and Iona, all we did was take a bus across Mull to get there. The bus included an automated tour as we drove across, but I found that very underwhelming. It would have been much nicer to have a bus driver that could actually talk to us about what we were seeing. For anyone thinking of spending some time in Scotland’s isles, I would highly suggest setting aside more time for Mull, as it looked very beautiful from the bus and had some intriguing history and folklore.

Staffa (c) ABR 2016

Staffa (c) ABR 2016

Staffa, best known for Fingal’s Cave, is a small island off of Mull. Here you find the same strange formations as on the other side of the sea in the Giant’s Causeway of Ireland. These giant columns some how formed (I don’t claim to be a geologist) during an ancient volcanic eruption, and during this time, created the island that we now know as Staffa. Visitors to the island can walk to Fingal’s cave, which is at sea level and is only fully accessible by kayak, although you can walk in a ways. I actually found the stroll to the cave more interesting than the cave itself, as this involved walking over the tops of the columns, and which gave you a sense for just how big and alien they are. There are also some tide pools in the area, but you have to exercise caution when approaching them because the surf can crash up over the rocks and there is no good place to climb out of the water if you get swept in. The best part of Staffa wasn’t either of these, however, because the island is also home to

(c) ABR 2016

(c) ABR 2016

puffins. If you climb the metals stairs up from where the tour boats leave you, and walk a ways through the green, wild grass on top of the island, you may be lucky enough to find these beautiful birds as they hunt, struggle to fly (I love their stubby wings), and play with one another. I do have my concerns about what the human presence on Staffa does to the puffins, as they are being observed for much of the day. This sort of attention can disturb animals and stop them from feeding, taking care of their young, or resting as much as they need to. So, if you visit, please be sure to be very respectful of these little guys, move slowly and be very quiet. Also, please educate other visitors about avoiding disturbance for these special birds.

Abbey on Iona (c) ABR 2016

Abbey on Iona (c) ABR 2016

Our final stop in the Inner Hebrides was the Isle of Iona. Now, as a fan of the Secret of Kells, I was really excited to stop here, and it was one of the most spiritual places I have visited. I’ve only previously experienced the same sort of spiritual experience in Japan and on Skellig Michael, so Iona is very special to me, especially since it has connections to my own religion. The island itself is a very peaceful place. It is easy to meander from the dock through the little, quiet town to the abbey. There are some small shops and restaurants here and there, as well as people driving the small roads (so please be courteous and make way for the residents), but it a breath of fresh air from modern life otherwise. The abbey itself has a little museum, which covers the history of the island, the abbey, and the people who stuck it out there despite constant attacks by the Vikings. Of course, there is a cathedral to visit, as well as a graveyard and a beautiful, rustic chapel. It is a very welcoming place, and a good representation of a loving Christian faith, being supportive of LGBTA, refugees, and gender equality. It just felt good to be there besides the amazing architecture and Celtic art that really makes this place unique when it comes to beautiful views and a place to explore.

My next post on August 15th will sum up the trip to Scotland and offer some suggestions to anyone that is thinking about going there and who might want to do something similar to our trip. After that, I am debating writing a piece about dealing with anxiety while traveling or diving into my journey to Haiti.

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