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Need to Nomad Blog

Captain Cook, the Ultimate Nomad

Contributed by Guest Blogger, Alan Neuren

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When it comes to nomads, Captain Cook is the ultimate example. In the mid eighteenth century, he embarked on three voyages to the Pacific. Using only the primitive navigational tools of the day he sailed around the globe from east to west and west to east. He sailed beyond both the Arctic and Antarctic circles.  Originally sent to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus, Cook discovered Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, and Hawaii, while also exploring the Northwestern regions of North America. 

Between August of 1768 and February of 1779 he spent only two years at his home in England, a true nomad if there ever was one.  The rest of the time, during which England engaged in a war of rebellion with her colonies in North America, Cook sailed along exploring and charting the vast reaches of the Pacific Ocean.

On what was to be his final voyage Cook discovered Hawaii and met his untimely end. How fitting that his demise should occur in the middle of the expansive ocean he explored and knew more intimately than any other individual. 

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In tribute to the man, we pay homage by visiting the memorials dedicated to him in Hawaii. Our first memorial visit proves easy. Initial contact with the Hawaiians occurred on the south shore of the Garden Island of Kauai, specifically on the beach of what is now Waimea. We never did find the precise point of landfall, as it is poorly marked, an impressive statue stands in a small park in the center of town. Consequently, the journey is an easy one by car.

The memorial on the Big Island is more of a challenge. On the shore of Kealakekua Bay, it can be reached only by water or a rather arduous 1.5 mile hike.  Recent restrictions make water access limited. We chose to hike, and approached the obscure entry near the fork for Highways 11 and 160. Three tall palms serve as markers for the entry to the path, although a faded arrow and “Captain Cook” spray painted on the asphalt at the top of the trail confirmed the way. From here it is all down hill on a narrow trail, initially lined with thick elephant grass.  The trail bed begins as packed dirt, but soon transitions to lava ranging in size from tiny stones to small boulders about the size of a bread loaf. The first breathtaking view of the ocean is of a bay north of Kealakekua, but as the trail turns south we are delighted with a beautiful view of this remote bay.  The last part of the trail runs through a wooded area protected by a large contingent of noisy flies, reminiscent of an old Hollywood soundtrack.  

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A few short turns and we are at the site, a tall monument at the head of the bay dedicated by Australians in his memory.  Other than snorklers boated in via hired tour guides, there is no one around. The bay is beautiful, surrounded by vertical cliffs and a lush green tropical forest. We spend time appreciating the beauty and solitude, while contemplating the steady determination and dedication of the man. Ultimately, we do have to return, the climb back even more grueling and demanding than the hike down. It is only fitting that paying homage to such a great explorer requires more than a little effort. 

WHERE DID ALL OUR QUESTIONS GO?

Researchers estimate that as children we ask about 100 questions per day, yet as adults our average number is six. Six questions per day. Considering that two of our six questions are used up with such mundane inquiries as, “Where are my car keys?”, and, “What's for dinner?”, this leaves very little room for creative curiosity.  

Armed with this research tidbit, I decide to quantify what ninety-four unasked questions per day means. Using myself as a yard stick, assuming I started verbalizing cogent questions around age two, assuming a gradual decline in questions asked by my adolescence, and assuming I reach my fiftieth birthday this May, I calculate my “unasked questions” backlog to be 1,453,590. Good gracious! 

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Estimated # of Unasked Questions over 50 Year Life Span for MJKenney

Though you may sense the levity with which I approach this topic, there is a sincere concern underlying my message. Why do we stop asking great questions? How does our endless curiosity whittle down over time? Somewhere along the way to adulthood, we lose our innate inquisitiveness, or at least our desire to speak aloud the questions that spring to our mind. Do we become self-conscious? Are we afraid to embarrass ourselves? Perhaps it is due to the responses our questions evoke, such as:


  • “Why are you always asking so many questions?”
  • "You are too young to understand."
  • "Do as I say and that's all you need to know."
  • "It's rude to be so nosy."
  • Silence, followed by the "eye roll", followed by "the look"


Is asking 100 questions per day excessive? Probably if you ask the same person all 100 questions, you will discover the answer is YES, as I did on a recent hike with my spouse. After about twenty ponderous questions on the flora and fauna encountered on our nature hike, his counter question became, “Why do you ask?”. Spoken like a former psychiatrist. 


Flag of Guatemala

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With this in mind, I am committing myself to ask at least one probing, mind bending, thought provoking question each day. I realize this is a far cry from 100, and that my unasked questions backlog grows bigger each day, but at least it's a start.  Here is my starter kit for the next few days. 

  • “What is something I’ve never thought about before?”
  • “I wonder what will happen if I start (or stop) doing this?”
  • “Who is the most impressive person I know and why?”
  • “What does the flag of Guatemala look like and what does it symbolize?”


Maybe I’ll learn something new and have a little fun at the same time. I have to go now … I'm reading up on the symbolism of the Guatemalan flag. Happy asking!

THE GIFT OF THE SHOEBOX

Bounty 6I’ve learned to be nonjudgmental when my husband pronounces his desire to sell everything and move to Adu Dabhi.  He is a nomadic spirit like me, and occasionally a crazy idea slips past our normal filter into the conscious space we share with others. What response can we expect our loved ones to have? “Are you insane?” is quite common, followed by, “Have you thought this thing through?”.  Of course it’s insane; of course we haven’t thought it through.  A wish expressed is not a wish realized, at least not with me.  Having spoken the words out loud, however, moves the idea forward like a pinball ricocheting off our disbelieving family and friends. With my husband I’ve learned to smile and relish the exploration of his current crazy wish, as he so patiently does with mine, while knowing it will not likely lead to any real movement. So what if it does? Why argue when the imaginative journey is so fun?

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On the other hand, these desires can grow legs in a hurry! In 1991, I dropped everything to move to southern California on a one week notice. With an employment offer from Scripps Hospital, I needed to get out there fast if I wanted the job!  Departure date was the Fourth of July, my own personal Independence Day.  

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Relocation is hard, physically and emotionally. A long road trip through the desert is especially daunting.  That’s why I want to tell you about the two most amazing gifts.  The first was from my dear friend, Rosena.  She gave the precious gift of time, volunteering to travel with me on my westward sojourn through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and ultimately Southern California. We talked, laughed, reminisced, dreamed, lamented, cajoled, and cursed our way across the desert, which turned out to be one of Rosena’s least favorite terrains. What a pal!  

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The second precious gift was “The Shoebox”, a thoughtful present from my dear friend, Ann, who was unable to join us. Having calculated the distance between Fort Worth and San Diego, approximately 1,350 miles, she filled a shoebox with “100-mile” envelopes, and a few extras thrown in. So off we drove in my four door Alfa Romeo, armed with our Shoebox and all my worldly possessions. Every hundred miles we opened the next envelope and did what Ann instructed. 

For your amusement, here’s a sampling of the contents in the shoebox.

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  • License plate bingo, which Rosena and I dutifully played. Thank goodness this was at the start of the trip, because it took us several hundred miles to find all of the requisite license plates as cars whizzed by.
  • Groucho Marx glasses with a note, “In case you want to be ‘incognito’ or just want to entertain other travelers for a while”.  Oh, yes, we wore those glasses for the entire one hundred miles, and provoked quite a few chuckles from passing cars.

What effort and love must have gone into the creation of our Shoebox, something I keep and cherish to this day. This act of kindness made a deep impression on me, and helped to seed similar efforts I have undertaken over the years for friends.  Think about a similar package you can create when a loved one faces a major road trip, or if they are on a more sedentary convalescent journey. They will be appreciative and stupefied, and you’ll be talking about it for years to come!

EXPLORING THE STARS


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The prominent constellation Orion strikes a swaggering pose on the celestial equator, from which he commands the attention of stargazers around the globe.  With his broad shoulders, trim three-starred waistline, tilted pelvis, and loping gait, he races across the evening sky. Even in the brightest full moon, Orion remains a strong caricature in the sky.  During early morning walks with my Casco Bay retriever, I always cast my gaze skyward to see if Orion is visible in the northern hemisphere, joined by his own canine companions Canis Major and Canis Minor.  

The very action of looking to the sky leads to memories of my dad, an avid stargazer and serious amateur astronomer. So much did Dad enjoy his stars and planets that he built his own telescope from which to gaze.  For as long as I can remember, the six foot long telescope sat in our backyard, ready for the next eager set of eyes.  I recall running my hand down its length and peering in both ends, appreciating Dad’s triumph and believing that he could build, or do, anything.  Although as an adult I know this is not true, in my heart I still hold this belief near and dear.

In 1972, my father, Matthew Kenney, wrote an editorial published in Sky & Telescope Magazine, describing his success in building an “old-fashioned” 6-inch telescope.  In the adjoining photo, the snippet of the text emphasizes the fact that no matter how many times I read the article, I still don’t understand the engineering behind it.  It reads …  "A 1-1/2"  pipe was machined down for the polar axle, and a 1-1/4" for the declination axle." It goes on to reference "pressed-brass bearing surfaces" and "standard pipe tees"? No wonder I never became an Engineer. 

Ask my siblings what they remember about Dad when we were little, and most likely they will say “I remember him getting us up at two in the morning to see a meteor shower”.  Or the rings of Saturn. Or a comet at midnight, or a lunar eclipse at 3 a.m.  Or a road trip to Prince Edward Island to see the full solar eclipse.  Our recollections are vivid, voices full of nostalgia and longing.  Memories abound of abandoned slumber, replaced by amazement as we stand pajama clad in the backyard to watch some astronomical wonder unfold.  The very act of stargazing, of looking up at the sky forces our jaws to drop.  I often wonder if this is by design, forcing us to stand in awe when casting our gaze to the magnificent sky?  

Because the constellation can be seen in both the northern and southern hemispheres, Orion evokes rich imaginative symbolism in cultures across time and around the world. From China to Scandinavia, from Australia to America, from the ancient Aztec people to the Egyptian Pharaohs, he is as prominent in our collective folklore as he is in the night sky. What he symbolizes for me is an unending journey as we pass through life, with each day representing an opportunity for new adventure. May he always be there urging us on, urging our children forward, urging future generations to seek beyond their narrow field of vision to see what's just over the horizon.

An Interview With the Art Nomad


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This week, I’m trying something a little different with the Need to Nomad blog.  Thanks to my good friend and colleague, Blake Hendrickson, for the video footage from his series on Maine Artisans.  Gratitude to my talented brother, Chet Kenney, for providing the music.


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